John Keeffer , 2019-08-14 20:49:49
Utah Jazz Tickets

In the doldrums of the NBA off-season, die-hard NBA fans will devour any morsel they can get of NBA news and analysis. With the recent release of the 2019-20 NBA schedule, it has created a whole week’s worth of content, and signals that the new season is truly just around the corner. To be exact, it’s 70 days away!

This is also the first moment that we can start making more accurate predictions for the season ahead. For the Utah Jazz, this is the first time in three years that the schedule has come out and appeared to be beneficial to the team. For the past two seasons, the first half schedule has been a killer for the Jazz, and they have finished the season with one of the highest strengths of schedule in the entire league.

First impressions of the new schedule should have fans breathing a sigh of relief. Not that it is easy, but the ups and downs appear to be much more balanced throughout the season. Let’s dive in and break down some of the key stretches and matchups that first jump out when looking over the schedule.

10/23 – Season Opener vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

The season opener is always an exciting time, but this game in particular is going to be fascinating to watch. The Oklahoma City Thunder are going to be a completely different team next season, and while many people view the departures of Paul George and Russell Westbrook to signify the start of a rebuild for the franchise, I think they could surprise people. The haul they got for each of those stars was significant though, and I could see the Thunder having a season similar to the Clippers last year. 

The potential starting lineup for the Thunder is going to be Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Andre Roberson, Danilo Gallinari, and Steven Adams. That’s a starting lineup that looks more like a bottom playoff team than a lottery team. They don’t have great depth, but they still have players like Dennis Schroder, Nerlons Noel, Mike Muscala, Terrence Ferguson, and Hamidou Diallo. The Utah Jazz are the better team, but the Thunder and specifically Chris Paul could be looking to make a statement early in the season.

Opening 26-game Stretch

One of the most difficult stretches of the season will actually come right out of the gates, as the Jazz will be playing 10 of their first 11 games against playoff level competition. You could actually stretch that out over the first 26 games of the season. During that stretch, they will only be playing four games against teams that are clearly not gunning for the playoffs. Let me actually break down their opponents into 4 categories. We’ll have Playoff Locks/Contenders, Likely Playoff Teams, Playoff Hopefuls, and Lottery Bound.

Playoff Locks/Contenders

  • LA Lakers x2
  • LA Clippers x2
  • Philadelphia x2
  • Milwaukee x2
  • Golden State x3

Likely Playoff Teams

  • Brooklyn Nets
  • Indiana Pacers

Playoff Hopefuls

  • Sacramento x2
  • OKC x2
  • Minnesota x3
  • New Orleans

Lottery Bound

The vast majority of teams the Jazz play early on in the season are going to be competitive matchups. The ones to watch out for are those Playoff Hopefuls. As pointed out by Tony Jones of The Athletic, early on in the season, those are the teams that still feel like they have something to fight for:

FYI, it’s a lot more dangerous playing the playoff hopefuls early in the season, instead of late in the season, because they haven’t had reality hit early in the season. Those teams are a lot easier to beat later in the season when teams start counting lottery balls. So the OKCs of the world, even without Russell Westbrook and Paul George, figure to be difficult to handle.

The Jazz are going to be playing a front loaded schedule, and it should begin to soften later on. The difference between the past two seasons and this season though? There will be a much better balance between home and away games through the first two months. The 26 game stretch will have 13 home games and 13 road games. It does feature four back-to-backs, but they are pretty favorable as far as travel and the opponents go.

Based on the schedule, I can envision the Jazz having a good but not great start, and then they can really start to make hay from mid-December on.

Make Hay Month

Speaking of making hay, that would would be post All-Star break for the Jazz. They will be playing Phoenix (x2), Washington, Cleveland (x2), New York, Detroit, Memphis, Atlanta, Dallas and Chicago. There are also teams like Minnesota and OKC in that stretch. Who, depending on how the season plays out, could be fighting for ping-pong balls, not playoff seeding.

Familiar Faces in Strange Places

The experience some major roster turnover this off-season, and that means we can look forward to a few of our favorite players coming back to Utah. It is always strange seeing those former Jazz players in a new uniform for the first time. Circle your calendars for when the following players come back for a visit to Salt Lake City:

  • Derrick Favors – New Orleans Pelicans
    • November 23rd and March 13th
  • Ricky Rubio – Phoenix Suns
  • Jae Crowder – Memphis Grizzlies
    • December 7th and March 14th

Unlike Gordon Hayward’s return to Salt Lake on February 26th, Favors, Rubio and Crowder should all receive ear-deafening standing ovations from the fans at Vivint.

Lucky Breaks

There are a few things that should really play out in the favor of the Utah Jazz this upcoming season. I already mentioned the difficult starting schedule, but the the first two matchups against the Clippers may be without Paul George. Even with George in the lineup, the Clippers are a dangerous team. That said, they are definitely not the title favorite team they are with him. If the Jazz can steal one or even both those games, it could pay huge dividends to potential end of the season tiebreakers. 

Another favorable scheduled gift is our matchups against the Golden State Warriors. The Jazz will play all four games against the Warriors prior to the All-star break. With Klay Thompson almost certainly out until after the break, that should be an easier matchup. With Steph Curry, De’Angelo Russell and skinny Draymond Green, the Warrior will be hard enough to beat as is. So not having the services of Klay Thompson is going to be a big bonus for the Jazz.

Unlucky Breaks

Every year there are four teams within your conference that you are only able to play three times. The best scenario is that you match up against some of the best teams in your conference only three times. For the Jazz, the only likely playoff team that they have the benefit of only facing three times is the Houston Rockets. The other teams they only play three times? The Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, and the Sacramento Kings. The Kings could potential take a leap and sneak into the playoffs, but still. Those are teams that the Jazz should defeat 9 out of 10 times, so you would be happy to play them four times in a season.

The other tough break for the team is the overall amount of travel they will have to experience. The Jazz will travel over 50,000 miles by seasons end, which is the most of any team in the NBA. We’ll just have to see how that potential effects some of the older players on the team, and if Quin Snyder looks into the potential of situationally resting players against lighter competition.

Overall, what should fans think?

Overall, this is a very fair schedule for the Utah Jazz. The franchise has decided that they do not want to play on Sundays, which makes it harder for the league create a decent schedule. For the first time in a few years, it feels as though the league got it right for the Jazz, and the schedule shouldn’t have as much as an impact on the wins and losses this year. 70 days! It really is just around the corner.

John is a Multimedia Journalism major at Utah’s Weber State University, where he has been a sports reporter for The Signpost. He also has previous writing experience at his own blog, The Wasatch Front, as well as at The J Notes. John moved to Utah at a young age, just in time for the Jazz’s back-to-back Finals runs.

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