The Utah Jazz are just 5-5 in their last 10 games and have lost four straight to fall down the Western Conference standings, and center Rudy Gobert feels at least two rivals are ahead of Utah in "winning habits."
"When I watch some of these other teams like the Suns or the Warriors, those guys are a step ahead of us in terms of winning habits," Gobert told reporters Friday. "They take every game personally."
To be fair to the Jazz, they have been decimated by players in COVID-19 protocols over the last week or so. Gobert has missed Utah's last five games due to protocols and is set to return Sunday against the Denver Nuggets.
In addition, Rudy Gay has missed three of Utah's last four games due to protocols. The team has also seen Hassan Whiteside and Udoka Azubuike miss time over the last week due to injury and protocols.
With several players sidelined, the Jazz have slipped to fourth in the Western Conference with a 28-14 record. The Memphis Grizzlies' 11-game winning streak has propelled them to 30-14, good for third in the West.
Despite the slide, the Jazz are 5.5 games ahead of the fifth-place Dallas Mavericks (22-19).
Getting Gobert back in the lineup will be huge for Utah. The Jazz defense was hideous without the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, as it allowed 118.6 points per game over the five games he missed.
In addition, the defense allowed Indiana Pacers star Domantas Sabonis and Detroit Pistons rookie Cade Cunningham to have career-high scoring games with Gobert sidelined. It also allowed Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Darius Garland to record triple-doubles.
Gobert is expected to once again be a top candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year award as he leads the league in rebounding. He is also averaging 2.3 blocks per game, in addition to 15.5 points, 15.1 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game.
Having Gobert back in the lineup should be enough to get the Jazz on track. But for Utah to challenge for the conference's No. 1 seed, it will need to find its edge on a more consistent basis.