Utah Jazz Clinch Playoff Berth with Nuggets' Loss to Pelicans

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2017

MILWAUKEE, WI - FEBRUARY 24:  Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz handles the ball during a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on February 24, 2017 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

For the first time since 2011-12, the Utah Jazz clinched a playoff spot Sunday by the virtue of the Denver Nuggets' loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

The team shared news of the clinch on its Twitter page:

Utah has been a team on the rise in recent seasons, and the pieces have finally come together for one of the NBA's deepest teams.

After going 43-39 in 2012-13, the Jazz bottomed out at 25-57 in 2013-14. Since that point, however, Utah has improved with each passing year, and it has now established itself as a team capable of doing damage in the Western Conference playoffs.

While it is unclear if the Jazz are ready to compete with the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs, they have enjoyed recent success against the teams closest to them in the standings, and the play of All-Star Gordon Hayward has been a big reason for that.

Utah scored a 115-108 win over the Houston Rockets on March 8, highlighted by this Hayward block on James Harden, courtesy of the NBA's official Twitter account:

The Jazz also defeated the Los Angeles Clippers on March 13, and Hayward once again set the tone with defensive plays such as this one on Blake Griffin, via CBS Sports NBA:

Although Hayward is the clear leader at both ends of the floor, Utah is far from a one-man show.

Guards George Hill and Rodney Hood are averaging nearly 30 points per game combined, center Rudy Gobert is a dominant defensive force in the paint and there are strong, supporting-cast players in both the frontcourt and backcourt.

Utah is currently trending toward a first-round playoff matchup against the Clippers or Oklahoma City Thunder, and moving on from that could set up a series with the Warriors or Spurs.

Although the Jazz are far from an in-vogue superteam, Hayward's two-way ability, coupled with a host of useful, versatile players throughout the rest of the lineup, makes Utah a highly dangerous team heading toward the postseason.

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