Utah’s run began Jan. 8, when it beat the Milwaukee Bucks by 13 as a six-point road underdog. The Jazz, which has the NBA’s best overall record at 24-5, has been the point-spread favorite in every game since and has covered all of them except a 128-117 loss to the Denver Nuggets (Utah was a three-point favorite) and a 117-105 win over the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 2 (the Jazz was a 12-point favorite and pushed).
So how is Utah getting it done? For starters, Coach Quin Snyder seems to be making the most of halftime, as the Jazz is coming out in the second half and blowing the doors off opponents. Before the start of Utah’s spread-covering run, it was getting outscored by 5.1 net points per 100 possessions in the second half. But during the streak, it has been outscoring opponents by 13.1 net points per 100 possessions over the final 24 minutes. The Jazz has been nearly 24 net points per 100 possessions better in the third quarter alone, giving it plenty of opportunity to run up the score early in the second half.
The key has been Utah’s focus on high-quality shots — like those at the rim or beyond the arc — at the expense of inefficient midrange jumpers. For example, the Jazz attempt an average of 5.5 shots from the restricted area and 10.7 three-pointers in the third quarter compared with just one attempt from midrange. That helps boost its offensive rating to almost 130 points per 100 possessions, on par with superteams like the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers. But unlike those two squads, Utah doesn’t have an all-star starter in its lineup.
Utah does, however, have two-time defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert at center, who is having one of the best seasons of his career. The 7-footer is averaging a double-double (14.2 points and 12.4 rebounds), and the Jazz is 12.6 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor than when he sits.
Overall, Utah has covered the spread in 22 of 29 games this season, a 75.9 percent clip that would shatter the best single-season against-the-spread winning percentage over the past 30 years: According to ESPN Stats & Info, the 2009-10 Milwaukee Bucks went 54-28 against the spread, covering 65.9 percent of their games (they would lose in seven games to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, however). The 2014-15 Hawks — the last team to post such an impressive against-the-spread streak before the Jazz this year — would go just 30-30-2 against the spread outside of their early-season run. They would win 60 games overall, tops in the Eastern Conference, but were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals.