December Dates with OKC Will Be Valuable Down the Stretch

Tyler Crandall , 2019-02-27 06:31:09
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To date in 2019, the Utah Jazz are a respectable 15-7. Considering the record alone, it doesn’t pop as much as something the team’s 29-6 over the final 35 games of the 2017-18 season. It gets much more respectable once you consider a few more factors. So far, the Jazz have played the 2nd most difficult schedule of any team in the league (and conversely, as we’ve discussed before, they have the easiest schedule of Western Conference playoff foes).

Adding further context to the record so far this calendar year: each of those seven losses came not only against a playoff team, East or West, but against a team currently slated as a top five seed. They’ve lost to fifth-seeded Houston, and the other six losses — to Toronto, Golden State, Portland (twice), Denver and OKC — came against teams who would enter the playoffs with homecourt advantage if the postseason started today.

Also consider the narrow margins in some of Utah’s losses, including the double-overtime battle against OKC or the Warriors game. Toronto and Portland were both losses of six points or less. There were two blowouts, to Houston and Portland.

At first glance, this all seems really positive for the Jazz. And it is  positive. Winning games is good. And it’s certainly not negative. But the Jazz did have a home-heavy stretch with plenty of rest and a lot of less-difficult opponents. 

“Schedule” as an excuse is a two-edged sword. Many were lamenting early in the season that analysts were putting too much stock in the difficult schedule and the Jazz had a lot of issues with the roster or elsewhere. Those same lamenters may now be celebrating all of the recent wins and ignoring how easy stretches of the recent schedule  has been.

Truth be told, those seven losses were also the only games the Jazz probably should have had a chance of losing, other than the wins against a shorthanded Denver team or the LA Clippers. The Jazz had a few impressive wins, but most of the wins were games they should have won. 

Piling up victories in those should-win games has certainly helped, and the Jazz have such a favorable schedule going forward that it’s really hard to imagine them coming in at anything worse than a 6th seed. But putting their 15 wins from 2019 in context is as meaningful as putting their ragged November and December in context. The Jazz are still largely beating teams they should and coming close but not quite getting there versus the elite.

After their upcoming back-to-back, the Jazz will enter March, which may be the easiest month any NBA team will have this season: aside from home games against the Bucks and Thunder, the Jazz will spend the month of March playing only teams with records around or below .500. If the Jazz can get through the next couple of games without dropping all of them,  taking care of business in March against a lot of losing teams should make the playoffs a lock. 

Tyler joins Salt City Hoops for the 2018-19 season, having previously written at The J-Notes. Tyler grew up in Utah watching the Stockton-to-Malone Jazz. He now lives in Brooklyn, NY and is an active tweeter at @tjcranman.

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