For the second consecutive season, the Utah Jazz are headed to the postseason.
Utah clinched a playoff berth on Sunday with a 112-97 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. The team sits in fourth place in the Western Conference.
After losing star Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics via free agency last offseason, the Jazz were expected to take a step back this season. It looked like they were on track to do just that, falling to nine games under .500 back in January. However, an 11-game winning streak during a 23-game stretch in which they lost just two contests propelled them right into playoff contention.
Losing Hayward is hardly the only change from a season ago. Utah also acquired veteran point guard Ricky Rubio last offseason and landed Jae Crowder in a three-team deal that sent Rodney Hood to the Cleveland Cavaliers, with the latter coming during the team’s hot streak. Most importantly, the team landed Donovan Mitchell in the draft, thanks to a trade with the Denver Nuggets.
Taken with the 13th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, Mitchell has made a strong case to be named Rookie of the Year. The 6’3", 215-pound guard out of Louisville leads the Jazz in scoring at 20.4 points, and he adds 3.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game entering play Sunday.
There’s no doubt Mitchell has been the star in Utah this season. However, the playoff push has been made possible thanks to a team effort. Rubio, Crowder, 2017 All-Defensive First Team member Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Joe Ingles have all played a role in helping the the squad pile up wins.
It marks just the second playoff appearance in six seasons for the Jazz. They defeated the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round in 2017 before being eliminated by the eventual champions, the Golden State Warriors, in the second round.
Utah has won at least one series in four of their last six trips to the playoffs.