The Utah Jazz will host the San Antonio Spurs on Friday in Salt Lake City with the All-Star break in the rearview mirror and 28 games left in the regular season.
The two teams carry different agendas into the final third of the campaign.
The Jazz, in fourth place in the West, have their sightsset on moving up or, at the very least, keeping home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs. San Antonio, meanwhile, is fighting an uphill battle just to get into the postseason.
After the Jazz beat the Miami Heat 116-101 on Feb. 12 in their final game before the All-Star break, Utah coach Quin Snyder lauded his team for playing hard and adjusting to both heightened expectations and up-and-down results.
"Tonight we just started playing really hard, and ... we've also learned to be a little smarter," Snyder said. "If we can keep building on those things, we've got a chance to improve in the second half of the year. That's what we need to do, keep getting better."
The Jazz return from the break a half-game behind the Los Angeles Clippers for third and 1 1/2 games back of the Denver Nuggets for second.
The two Utah players chosen to participate in the All-Star Game performed well in Chicago. Rudy Gobert scored 21 points on 10-of-11 shooting and added 11 rebounds, two assists and a block in 19 minutes for Team Giannis. Donovan Mitchell compiled seven points, five rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block in 14 minutes for the same team.
San Antonio, which has also been off since Feb. 11, resumes its annual Rodeo Road Trip in Utah before completing the stretch of eight straight road games in Oklahoma City on Sunday.
The Spurs' run of 22 straight playoff appearances is tied for the top spot in NBA history with the Philadelphia 76ers, who were the Syracuse Nationals when they started their streak in 1950. San Antonio's postseason run is the longest active streak in any major North American pro sports league, and it will have to do a lot more, and play a lot better, to keep that run alive.
The Spurs' 23-31 record is their worst at the All-Star break since the 1996-97 season, which is the last time they failed to make the playoffs.
San Antonio went into the All-Streak break stuck in 10th place in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference.
After San Antonio beat Oklahoma City 114-106 in its last game before the All-Star break, coach Gregg Popovich had one directive for his players. The Spurs did not send a player to the All-Star Game.
"Just get away from basketball," Popovich said. "Don't even think about it. You need to clear your mind sometimes, and you'll be more ready when you come back."
The victory against the Thunder ended a five-game slide for the Spurs, with all the losses coming on their current trip.
Popovich has described this season's team as being "defensively challenged." A number of close losses can be attributed to the Spurs' defensive breakdowns and untimely lapses, especially late in games.
--Field Level Media