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Jazz welcome Hornets with eyes on bigger prizes

(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Can the Utah Jazz secure a top-4 seed in the Western Conference?

Such a goal is definitely within reach for the Jazz as they wrap up a four-game homestand against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday. Utah trails Portland by just two games for the fourth seed with just six games remaining for both teams. The Trail Blazers hold the tiebreaker, so the Jazz will need to finish a game ahead of Portland to clinch the fourth spot.

Utah is on enough of a roll to get it done, having won nine of its last 10 games. That includes a five-game winning streak in Salt Lake City.

That's not to say things are perfect. The Jazz scratched out a 128-124 victory over Washington on Friday after watching the Wizards shoot 49 percent from the field and repeatedly rally from deficits in the second half.

"Sometimes, a lot of people think that when we struggle in close games, it's because of our offense," guard Ricky Rubio told reporters. "Sometimes, it's the defense that's the key. A stop when you're up two is as huge as a three when you're down one."

Utah is doing enough on offense to offset the defensive struggles. Against the Wizards, the Jazz shot 55 percent from the floor and made 14 3-pointers, marking a 16th consecutive game with 10 or more made baskets from beyond the perimeter.

Donovan Mitchell led the way with 35 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Mitchell bounced back from a first-quarter eye injury to score 31 points over the final three quarters and help keep the Jazz a step ahead of Washington.

"I thought he attacked and that's what we needed him to do," Utah coach Quin Snyder said.

Mitchell and the Jazz will need to be in attack mode against Charlotte. The Hornets remain on the fringes of the playoff picture after losing to Golden State 137-90 on Sunday night. Charlotte trails Miami by three games for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Hornets will be desperate to get a victory after starting out 0-2 on their current four-game road trip. They have little room for error to keep pace in the standings. Still, this is a team that won four straight before the current road trip. There's a new energy that's helping Charlotte find success.

Giving increased minutes to younger players Dwayne Bacon, Miles Bridges and Devonte' Graham has injected much of that energy into the Hornets. It's helped to take some of the offensive pressure off of Kemba Walker, as well.

"There is a spirit about us. And I feel like we haven't had it in a long time," Charlotte forward Marvin Williams told the Charlotte Observer last week.

Utah beat the Hornets 119-111 on Nov. 30 in the other meeting between the two teams this season. Mitchell led the Jazz with 30 points while Rudy Gobert added 20 points, 17 rebounds, and four blocks. Jeremy Lamb led Charlotte with 24 points while Walker added 21.

--Field Level Media

Updated April 1, 2019

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