SALT LAKE CITY — Early in Monday night's game, the Utah Jazz jumped out to a double-digit lead against a less-than-stellar squad.
Suddenly in the second quarter, the once-comfortable advantage over the Sixers was whittled down to two points.
The surging visitors had confidence. The team that had lost four games in a row — and 11 of 14 — was slipping, sliding and stumbling yet again.
Then, something clicked.
For a change, it wasn't too late, either.
"The momentum," Jazz forward Derrick Favors said, "went our way."
Utah's defensive intensity picked up, its offense tagged along for the ride and, after runs of 11 and 13 points, the win-starved team put the game away before the Jazz Dancers Alumni group entertained the crowd at halftime.
Two days later, the Jazz are hoping to keep that momentum going their way.
Utah hosts Phoenix tonight, and if the Jazz win and Lakers lose at Minnesota, guess who will be back in the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference?
"It helps to get a win, but we've got to put a couple of wins together here — one win, two wins, three wins, four or five in a row — to put us where we need to be," Jazz center Al Jefferson said. "When all is said and done, we still have a chance."
That will especially be the case, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin believes, if the team plays as well as it did in the 107-91 blowout of Philadelphia.
"You have a chance every night when you get the kind of focus that we had (Monday), and the effort along with the focus," Corbin said. "I thought the attention to detail (Monday) was pretty good."
One example Corbin gave was the way his defense "jumped on" Thaddeus Young and denied him from going left.
"Those kind of little things give you a chance because the focus is there mentality," he said. "And then the effort comes along with that. You have a chance to try different things during the course of the game because the guys are really in tune to what's happening out there. It was good to see."
Corbin admitted he sometimes wonders why his team has struggled so much to string together these types of efforts in the past month after playing so well in January. But the former NBA player empathizes with his players.
"It's a long, grueling season, and you get to this stage and mentally you're worn out, physically you're a little beat up," Corbin said. "But you've got to find a way. The good teams find a way to muster up that energy and that focus to get it done when they're beat up."
Jefferson reiterated that the playoffs have already started for the Jazz. With seven of their last 11 games at home, Utah has a realistic shot of earning a second consecutive postseason berth if it can get — and keep — that momentum ball rolling its way.
"We've just got to look at every game as important," Big Al said. "We've got to go into it playing our best and try to put that high energy on the defensive end and try to win."
Small forward Gordon Hayward added that the Jazz have to play with a heightened sense of urgency. Not only does Utah have to catch the Lakers, who lead them by one game, but they also have to remain ahead of Dallas and Portland to secure that final playoff spot.
"We have to build some momentum from this game and look forward to the next one," Hayward said. "It's desperation on our part. We let a couple of games go, and we have to get those back."
Here's a look at the remaining schedules for the four teams fighting for the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference playoffs:
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Home games (6): Dallas, Memphis, New Orleans, Golden State, San Antonio, Houston.
Road games (5): Minnesota, Milwaukee, Sacramento, Clippers, Portland.
Foes .500 or better: 6.
Home games (7): Phoenix, Brooklyn, Portland, Denver, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Minnesota.6 comments on this story
Road games (4): Portland, Golden State, Minnesota, Memphis.
Foes .500 or better: 5.
Home games (7): L.A. Clippers, Indiana, Chicago, Phoenix, Denver, Memphis, New Orleans.
Road games (5): L.A. Clippers, Denver, Sacramento, Portland, New Orleans.
Foes .500 or better: 7.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Home games (8): Brooklyn, Utah, Memphis, Houston, Dallas, L.A. Lakers, Oklahoma City, Golden State.
Road games (4): Golden State, Utah, Denver, L.A. Clippers.
Foes .500 or better: 9.