Utah Baseball Pushing Through A Challenging Season

SALT LAKE CITY — The Jazz enjoyed a rare luxury this summer: To get better, they didn’t need to make any significant moves.

Now, as the Warriors prepare for their road opener Friday night at Utah, they do so knowing that it will only be tougher to beat a team that dominated them unlike any other last season. The question is whether the Jazz can stay healthy enough to challenge for a top-2 seed in the Western Conference.

It wasn’t until late January last season, when Utah welcomed back Rudy Gobert from injury, that they began to flash their immense potential. After winning 29 of their final 35 regular-season games, the Jazz needed six games to oust the Thunder from the first round of the playoffs.

Quinn Cook (4) puts up an off balance shot under the basket in the first half as the Golden State Warriors played the Utah Jazz at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, March 25, 2018.© Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle Quinn Cook (4) puts up an off balance shot under the basket in the first half as the Golden State Warriors played the Utah Jazz at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, March 25, 2018.

With Gobert — the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year — anchoring the interior, Utah easily boasted the league’s best defense after the All-Star break last season. Donovan Mitchell, who has helped Utah fans forget about the departure of Gordon Hayward, is a go-to option at just 22 years old. Armed with a much-improved jump shot, Ricky Rubio is a worthy sidekick.

"They’re an outstanding team," Golden State head coach Steve Kerr said. "The thing I always look for when you’re talking about teams that are legit is, ‘Do they play both sides of the ball?’ It’s one of the best defensive teams in the league, and they’ve gotten a lot better offensively.

"They put you through a lot of motion, a lot of action. They’ve got a lot of weapons. They come in with a really deep bench. Mitchell gives them something they haven’t had, with that dynamic playmaking. So, they’re a really, really good team."

Kerr should know. Last season, the Warriors went 1-3 against the Jazz, with those three losses coming by a combined 89 points. Golden State’s 119-79 defeat against Utah in the regular-season finale eclipsed its 30-point blowout to the Jazz on Jan. 30 as its most lopsided drubbing of the season.

Instead of reminding his players about those duds, Kerr has kept the focus on self-improvement. The Warriors, who have a new-look big man rotation, are in the early stages of ironing out their substitution patterns and getting back into regular-season shape.

"It’s a really good challenge," Kerr said of playing at Utah in just the second game of the season. "This first 20 games is really about establishing our identity. Different second unit. Different combinations. Trying to find our groove, our rhythm early in the season. So, to do it on the road early in the season is a good test."

Connor Letourneau is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: cletourneau@sfchronicle.com. Twitter: @Con_Chron

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Utah Baseball Pushing Through A Challenging Season

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Utah Baseball Pushing Through A Challenging Season

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Utah Baseball Pushing Through A Challenging Season

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Utah Baseball Pushing Through A Challenging Season