Way too early predictions for 2019-20 West standings

Jared Woodcox , 2019-08-10 19:17:07
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SALT LAKE CITY, UT – FEBRUARY 27: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz elbows past Landry Shamet #20 of the LA Clippers in the second half of a NBA game at Vivint Smart Home Arena on February 27, 2019 in Salt Lake City, Utah. 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 Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)

The Utah Jazz face ample competition in a loaded Western Conference. Here’s a first-look at how the regular season standings could stack up in 2019-20.

In the latest rendition of The J-Notes Blast Podcast, I took some time to measure the Utah Jazz’s competition in the Western Conference and predict how each opponent would stack up. It was an extremely difficult exercise given the talent and depth found in the Western Conference, particularly with there being several teams likely worthy of a playoff spot but, of course, only eight openings.

Because it was so much to unwrap, I wanted to be sure to also get my thoughts down on paper, so to speak, by dissecting the Western Conference even further and aiming to project just how the standings will play out come season’s end, which is exactly what I’ve done here.

With that said, it should be noted that this isn’t a power ranking or an order of which teams I believe will be best come playoff time (mild spoiler alert – the team I have at number one here isn’t even close to my favorite to qualify for the NBA Finals from the West). This is my projections for how the seeding will look on the final day of the regular season heading into the playoffs.

A lot of elements can affect regular season performance and some teams are simply built better for the 82-game haul than they are for the ever-important grind of the postseason. As such, I’ve attempted to take all factors into consideration when putting this together. Obviously, one that remains unknown at this point (until Monday, that is) is the specific intricacies of each team’s regular season schedule.

Nevertheless, while certainly a lot could yet change between now and the start of the season, based on what we know now, here are my predictions for how the regular season standings will ultimately shake out in the West.

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Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton , 2019-07-17 17:45:45
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The field is set. Fifteen Western Conference clubs are mostly done with their major personnel moves, which means we can start to suss out the power structure after a major talent shakeup across the NBA.

Of course, ranking teams at this point of the year can feel subjective. At least that was the complaint of Utah Jazz fans when ESPN’s first power ranking after free agency had the Jazz behind five other Western Conference teams.

Look, everybody is undefeated in July. The NBA community right now is basically 30 fan bases who all think their team is on the right track — well, 29 fan bases and then the Knicks. As many as seven fan bases in the WC can probably talk themselves into believing their teams can contend — heck, even Suns fans are out here wilding.

That’s why I prefer to think of the landscape in terms of tiers as opposed to pure rankings. Here is a look at where the 15 teams stack up, at least in one writer’s analysis. Along the way, we’ll recap each club’s big offseason moves and some weaknesses that might trip up even the elite teams throughout the season.

Teams are listed alphabetically within the respective tiers. 

The Contender Tier

These four teams are the teams that are easiest to picture in the four homecourt slots come April. 

Denver Nuggets

  • Offseason in a sentence: They mostly stood pat, opting in on Paul Millsap and locking Jamal Murray in for the long haul — but they also bagged a smart upgrade at the reserve forward spot in Jerami Grant.
  • Why they’re in this tier: With roughly the same core, Denver was comfortably a top-four seed last season, and most of their key contributors are at ages where they’re likely to get better around the margins. Our Austin Facer already highlighted some of the reasons Denver can’t be taken lightly, but the quick version is this: they were a 54-win team that stands to get better. They’re anchored by an All-NBA talent in Nikola Jokic, and Grant should be a significant bench upgrade for them, too. They’ll also add Michael Porter, the second-highest draft pick on their current roster. Porter’s rookie season was postponed by a back injury.
  • Weaknesses: Both Murray and Gary Harris have been fairly average in terms of efficiency and certain all-in metrics, and one or both will have to take the next step for Denver break through in the playoffs. That’s especially true now they’ve invested $170 million in Murray.

Houston Rockets

  • Offseason in a sentence: After reportedly dangling Clint Capela for a while, they went all in on dynamic scoring guards by uniting 2017 and 2018 MVPs Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
  • Why they’re in this tier: The Rockets have been widely considered the most serious challenger to the dynastic Warriors for the last couple of seasons, and then added a player who, at least in an absolute sense, is an upgrade over Chris Paul. Sure, there are fit things to work through, but generally speaking, good things happen when you put two MVPs in their primes on the same team. And Houston was already an elite team to begin with.
  • Weaknesses: People tend to either hate or love the Russ-Beard pairing, but the reality is that there are legitimate reasons to wonder about Westbrook’s efficiency, how he and Harden will share creation duties, and of course how the pair of notoriously inconsistent defenders will guard opposing backcourts. Plus, age: PJ Tucker is 34, the 30-year-old Eric Gordon is entering his 12th NBA season1, and the newly-signed Tyson Chandler is heading into his 19th year in the league.

L.A. Clippers

  • Offseason in a sentence: Oh, simply added a two-time Finals MVP, a top-three finisher from last year’s regular season MVP race, did so without majorly impacting their depth, and along the way snagged a starting-caliber forward for free just by being in the right place.
  • Why they’re in this tier: Simply put, the Clips will enter the season as the favorite for the Western title. Kawhi Leonard alone would have granted the club instant legitimacy, but by adding Paul George — coming off an elite performance last season — they are absolutely poised to contend. They also locked up starters Pat Beverley and JaMychal Green, and nabbed Moe Harkless for free2 for helping facilitate the Heat-Blazers trade.
  • Weaknesses: While they have a lot of rotation-quality depth, they don’t have a ton of star depth, which is to say that after Kawhi and PG, the drop-off to their role players is pretty stark. They’re especially light on true big men. 

Utah Jazz

  • Offseason in a sentence: Adding Mike Conley via trade was enough to shift them into go-for-it mode, but then they also added a dynamic forward in Bojan Bogdanovic and role players like Jeff Green and Ed Davis.
  • Why they’re in this tier: Had Kawhi not come west, Utah might have entered the season as WCF favorites after their tremendous offseason. They worked surgically to address deficiencies such as on-ball creation and shot making, and did so without sacrificing much of their defensive mojo or their depth. Conley and Bogdanovic give Utah a much more potent version of a lineup that was the most efficient 5-man combo in the league last season, while Davis and Green will help make it so that they don’t suffer too much for sending Derrick Favors to New Orleans. 
  • Weaknesses: Utah’s offensive success is still going to be tied to a player who, until he proves otherwise, is a below-average efficiency guy. The presence of more creators and shooters should give Donovan Mitchell a path to improvement, but he’ll need to make some pretty serious strides if Utah’s really going to sniff a top-5 offensive rating this season.

The “Nobody Would Be Shocked” Tier

I have these next few teams behind the four above, but all of them are squads that could easily crash the upper half of the bracket. Nobody should be too surprised if any of these teams grab a top-4 seed — or even wind up winning the West.

Golden State Warriors

  • Offseason in a sentence: They lost Kevin Durant (as well as Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston), but retained the injured Klay Thompson and added All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell.
  • Why they’re in this tier: Before Durant ever made his way to the Bay Area, this team was a 73-win juggernaut that had taken the Larry O’Brien trophy on a parade. Granted, though, that was with a healthy Thompson and with role players on the whole. Steph Curry and Draymond Green will have to keep the Warriors connected into the early spring, but if Thompson comes back around then and quickly returns to form, nobody will want to face the Dubs and their championship pedigree in the postseason. 
  • Weaknesses: Depth is their main issue. Only six of their players added more than 0.5 Wins Above Replacement last year, and one of those six will miss most of the season. They also have absolutely no means to add more help should someone become available. Because they triggered the hard cap, they can’t even sign a minimum-salary player without first trading someone away.

Los Angeles Lakers

  • Offseason in one sentence: They finally put Anthony Davis next to LeBron, but then struck out on other big names and settled for short deals with some decent role players.
  • Why they’re in this tier: A lot of folks have the Lakers up in the first tier, and that makes perfect sense. A rejuvenated LeBron James or a more plugged-in version of Davis makes that easy to imagine. But last year showed that 34-year-old LeBron might not be a ticket to 50 wins all on his own anymore3, and once again it doesn’t feel like they put the exact right supporting skill sets around him. There is a bit more shooting on this year’s Lakers roster (Danny Green, Avery Bradley), but they’re still going to be very LBJ-dependent for offensive creation, and they’ll still rely on a lot of guys who are minus defenders overall. Still, they have two megastars who are not far removed from top-5 status, and that raises their floor substantially.
  • Weaknesses: LeBron is the only high-quality offensive creator on their roster, and that’s a lot to ask of a guy with that amount of miles on him. He also has been a pretty lackluster regular season defender lately, and one would imagine that will continue if he’s still being asked to do as much on offense.

Portland Trail Blazers

  • Offseason in a sentence: They mostly stood pat, but added Hassan Whiteside to help man the center position while Jusuf Nurkic recovers — at the cost of Harkless.
  • Why they’re in this tier: For starters, they were Western Conference Finalists like 12 minutes ago! Portland is good. The loss of Nurk will hurt their regular season performance4, which is why I have them in the “feel free to shock us” tier, but this team is led by a FOUR-time All-NBA selection and one of the smartest coaches in the Association. They should be a playoff team if they stay moderately healthy. If Nurk comes back ready to help, they’ll be another plucky underseed with the ability to pull off an upset that might or might not even feel like an upset.
  • Weaknesses: This is a one-star team right now. Nurkic’s absense means that Damian Lillard won’t have a single teammate with a 2018-19 WAR higher than CJ McCollum’s 3.55.

That’s crazy!! Those are seven teams who at least on paper should be able to vie for a a spot in the conference final! 

The Playoff Bubble Tier

If none of the seven teams above experience significant health problems or extended struggles, there is exactly one playoff spot left for the other eight teams in the conference. Here are the teams that should be best poised to make a run at it. 

Minnesota Timberwolves

  • Offseason: The Wolves had one of the quietest offseasons of anybody, although they added shooting wing Jake Layman and drafted Jarrett Culver with the sixth pick.
  • Why they’re here: There was a two-month period after the cloud of the Jimmy Butler saga passed and before Robert Covington got hurt that the Wolves were decent. They were 12-10 in RoCo’s first 22 games as a Wolf. But then Covington was lost for the year, and Jeff Teague missed two big chunks, and there just wasn’t enough talent left. In a universe where everything goes right for them, they could challenge for that final playoff spot. But that would require a different level of two-way play from stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. So far, that has eluded them.
  • Weaknesses: Aside from the fact that their best players are working to address significant holes in their games6, the Wolves really struggle to defend threes, and that’s a tough way to live in today’s NBA. Their defense overall is one of the worst in the league.

New Orleans Pelicans

  • Offseason: In addition to their AD trade haul, they added established starters in JJ Redick and Derrick Favors… plus they drafted a guy with a chance to be a generational talent.
  • Why they’re here: I really like what the Pels have done under new GM David Griffin. They have enough firepower with their veterans that they should be able to win a lot of games even if if takes Zion Williamson a while to find his sea legs, as it does for most rookies. A Jrue Holiday-Redick-Favors trio of high-value starters should give them enough legitimacy to have a shot in a lot of games, and then if any of the recent lottery picks on their roster — Zion is the best, but Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Jaxson Hayes could all be heard from — they might get back to relevance more quickly than anybody thought.
  • Weaknesses: Until Zion starts wreaking havoc on the league, they just don’t have the starpower at the top to consistently make things uncomfortable for the top teams. Holiday is really good, and Favors and Redick are above-average starters, but their only defining star is a kid who has played zero real NBA minutes, and who also has some injury stuff to bounce back from.

San Antonio Spurs

  • Offseason: Most of their summer was about fortifying the forward spots, where they retained Rudy Gay and brought in DeMarre Carroll and Trey Lyles via free agency.
  • Why they’re here: I caught some flak from Spurs fans last offseason when I stated that I wasn’t sure they were playoff-bound post-Kawhi. Thing is, though: I wasn’t wrong. Their FiveThirtyEight playoff odds were at 42% on January 4, roughly the midpoint of the season. Gregg Popovich got them there because he’s a mad scientist, but my “not sure” take was pretty accurate — they were basically a coin toss to get in. And they’ll be one again. They’re led by a duo of underappreciated almost-superstars whose styles feel odd in a modern game, but that pair and Pop have managed to stave off irrelevance. If the seven teams above all stay healthy and take their expected postseason spots, the Spurs are the safest bet to grab the remaining playoff berth.
  • Weaknesses: The Spurs were already the team that took the fewest threes last season, and they lost Davis Bertans to clear room for a Marcus Morris signing that never came to fruition. They also have Dejounte Murray returning after knee surgery, and while that’s a positive thing in overall terms, Murray is another non-outside threat.  

The Not-Quite-Yet Tier

It would be totally reasonable (and maybe even more accurate) to jump these together in one larger tier with the group above as teams that will flirt with competence and fight for a chance to sniff a playoff spot. But ultimately, I see these next teams as being a little bit further from the top.

Dalls Mavericks

  • Offseason: Other than some shrewd rotational upgrades — like adding Delon Wright, Seth Curry and Boban Marjanovic — the main priority in Mavsland was locking up Kristaps Porzingis.
  • Why they’re here: A lot of people have them up a tier, and that’s perfectly reasonable. Both Porzingis and Luka Doncic have a chance to be legit franchise cornerstones on a great team, and if that hapens sooner rather than later, then I’m willing to look silly for keeping them down here. I just think they’re still a year away from being really interesting. Porzingis will be working his way back from a serious injury, and Doncic will be in just his second season, a campaign that historically trips up some youngsters. And while I like their supporting cast, there’s no third quasi-star who can really carry the torch for them on nights when the young fellas don’t have it. They’re definitely trending right, but unless one or both of those guys takes a mega-leap, Dallas fans might need a bit more patience.
  • Weaknesses: They could use some upgrades on the wing. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee were both replacement-level players by some macro stats, and that’s probably why they’re vying for a chance at Iguodala.

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Offseason: It was going to be a quiet offseason in Tornado Alley… until Kawhi lured PG from Oklahoma City and soon after lifelong Thunder Russell Westbrook moved on as well.
  • Why they’re here: I considered dropping these guys down to the “no chance” tier, but a Chris Paul-Danilo Gallinari-Steven Adams core trio is better on paper than what most really bad lottery teams have at the top of their roster. The tricky part is that CP3 could be gone any day, potentially to Miami. So the question is, does Goran Dragic-Gallo-Adams feel like a 35-win core? Probably not. Even with CP3, I’m just not sure I see a .500 team in there. CP3’s superstardom has faded, Gallo doesn’t defend, Steven Adams is good but can only score opportunistically. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is interesting.
  • Weaknesses: See above. Plus, it’s worth mentioning that CP3 and Gallo have each averaged 23 to 30 games missed to injury over the last three seasons. 

Sacramento Kings

  • Offseason: Aside from keeping Harrison Barnes around, the Kings made some rotational upgrades with players who have contributed on good teams: Trevor Ariza, Cory Joseph and Dewayne Dedmon.
  • Why they’re here: The Kings were a plucky team and a fun story last season, but predictive models never really took them too seriously. Per 538, their playoff odds topped out at about 13% in early March. De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley Jr. are going to keep getting better, and that’s really Sacramento’s key to climbing the ladder. Without one or both of those sophomores making immense steps forward, this is still a starless team.
  • Weaknesses: They actually have enough quality NBA players for a decent rotation, but the truth is that Sacto will be at a talent deficit almost every time out. Phoenix and Memphis are the only other Western Conference teams who don’t have a 6+ WAR player on their roster for the upcoming season. In fact, 11 of the 12 other teams have TWO such studs7. Simply put, the Kings just don’t have the firepower to be a serious threat until one of Fox or Bagley explodes.

The Rebuilding Tier

The title says it: these teams are not expected to be very competitive this season, but they have young stars who will be fun to watch develop nonetheless.

Memphis Grizzlies

  • Offseason: The Grizz moved on from their signature core with trades in February (Marc Gasol) and June (Conley), and are now moving forward with a full rebuild after putting No. 2 pick Ja Morant next to Jaren Jackson Jr.
  • Why they’re here: The JJJ-Ja core is as good a place as any to start a rebuild, as both guys have a chance to be really good. But in the meantime, it’s obvious that the franchise is hitting the reset button, as they used their trade exceptions to acquire expiring salary attached to picks. They are not planning to be good.
  • Weaknesses: Youth is a divine treasure, but it also means that Memphis is employing a lot of guys who are still learning the NBA game. They have eight players on their roster who will be playing their first, second or third NBA season, and once they trade Andre Iguodala and waive Dwight Howard, they won’t have a single player with more than seven years in the league.

Phoenix Suns

  • Offseason: Ricky Rubio, Aron Baynes and Dario Saric are the key additions to a Phoenix group that won 24 games last season.
  • Why they’re here: Rubio gives them the type of floor general they haven’t had in a long time, and that will probably help Devin Booker, who finally turned the corner in some ways last season. But the simplest form of win arithmetic says that Suns fans might need to brace themselves for another season in waiting. Their best hope of escaping this tier is DeAndre Ayton making a big year-two leap.
  • Weaknesses: The team that was dead last in 3-point shooting last season added a non-shooting PG in Rubio and a non-shooting big in Baynes. Saric (36% last year) could help, but this team will still lack sufficient spacing threats.


Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball from up close for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. The born-and-raised Utahn now lives in New York City.

Dan Clayton

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Where do Conley and Mitchell rank among West backcourts?

Jared Woodcox , 2019-07-13 17:07:58
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MEMPHIS, TN – MARCH 8: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz charges towards the basket during the game against Mike Conley #11 of the Memphis Grizzlies on March 8, 2019 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The new Utah Jazz backcourt of Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley looks to be one of the best in the West. But just how do they measure up to the other elite guard duos?

To put it bluntly, there have been a whole lot of changes this NBA offseason. An unprecedented number of stars have changed teams, leaving the league’s landscape absolutely altered. Although the Utah Jazz aren’t receiving near the hype for their player acquisitions as some teams such as the LA Clippers, who brought in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Los Angeles Lakers, who brought in Anthony Davis, or the Houston Rockets who just traded for Russell Westbrook, their moves this offseason were solid in their own way because they filled Utah’s most crucial needs.

Most importantly of all, they added Mike Conley, who figures to be the best point guard the Jazz have had since Deron Williams, and, for the first time, will allow Donovan Mitchell to play alongside a true creator who can both get his own shot and break down the opposing defense. The two of them ought to fit each other seamlessly and create a daunting one-two punch.

Especially if Mitchell can keep up his turn-of-the-calendar-year level of play where he posted over 26 points per game on highly efficient shooting splits, the Mitchell-Conley pairing has a shot to be one of the best backcourts in the Western Conference in spite of the West’s depth and talent. But just how good could they be?

Well, of all the backcourts in the West, the Jazz’s might be the biggest wild card as Mitchell is the largest mystery of just how big a leap he’ll take in 2019-20. Meanwhile, even Conley leaves some things in question considering that he has never before played with as prolific of a two-guard as Donovan Mitchell. The pressure Spida will take off of him as he teams up with an incredible teammate could very well help Conley have one of the most effective seasons of his career.

But, of course, while we can dream about it during the offseason and speculate what it looks like on paper, until the games are actually played we have no idea how things will actually turn out. Nevertheless, by way of projection and basing on what we know now, I’ve compiled a list of the top backcourts in the Western Conference, including where that of the Utah Jazz will fall.

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Clippers blockbusters have completely transformed the West

Jared Woodcox , 2019-07-06 12:00:04
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The LA Clippers’ incredible moves to bring in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will affect the Utah Jazz and shake the Western Conference as a whole.

After putting together one heck of an offseason, there were several NBA experts that were quick to say that as things currently stood, the Utah Jazz were legitimate title contenders. Some even went as far as to say that they could be the best team in the West in 2019-20.

However, to truly know how the landscape was going to play out, we had to know where one player was going – Kawhi Leonard.

Originally, there was a lot of speculation that if he went to the Los Angeles Lakers to team up with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, that team would ascend to the top of the conference, surpassing Utah and everyone else in one fell swoop. As such, many Jazz fans hoped that Kawhi wouldn’t land there and instead would either stay in Toronto or sign with the LA Clippers, who had failed to land any other stars in free agency.

I suppose the lesson to be learned here is to be careful what you wish for.

When the reports from The Athletic’s Shams Charania and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Leonard would be signing with the Clippers first dropped, my initial reaction was euphoria. Yes, it would spring the Clippers into legitimate contention and, sure, the Lakers would still be exceptional with James and Davis, but in my mind adding Leonard to the nice but not mind-blowing pieces in Clipper-land didn’t put them over top of what the Jazz pulled off, in my mind.

Then, in a matter of seconds. Everything changed.

Woj followed up his first bomb with an absolute nuke by announcing that the Oklahoma City Thunder had also traded Paul George to the LA Clippers for a king’s ransom. That ransom included a historic number of picks – four unprotected firsts, a protected first and two pick swaps along with promising young player Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and sharpshooter stretch-four Danilo Gallinari.

But, at least in the short-term, that reality pales in comparison to the fact that the Clippers just added Paul George. Paul freaking George. An MVP and DPOY candidate this past season to pair alongside Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Oh, and did we mention the Clippers still have reigning (perennial?) Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, defensive bulldog Patrick Beverley, second-year stud Landry Shamet and bench man extraordinaire Montrezl Harrell? Wow.

Talk about how difficult it will be to score on the three-headed monster that is Bev, PG and Klaw. Then how hard it will be to stop PG, Klaw and Sweet Lou offensively.

As well as the Jazz have done this offseason, it’s hard to not now argue that it is the Clippers who are indeed the true favorites in the West. And teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, who have bulked up, the Denver Nuggets, who should only improve, the Houston Rockets, who will remain daunting and the Golden State Warriors, who still shouldn’t be counted out, will be terrifying as well.

The West is going to be a dogfight. And the best part about it is, while you can try to presume what the power rankings are among each of the teams, it’s still about as wide open as it could get. The Clippers are going to be absolutely amazing next season, but the same could be said about the Utah Jazz after their improvements. Or about any of the other teams I just mentioned. The NBA is about as balanced as it’s been in a long, long time.

Which means the Jazz have still done absolutely the right thing by going all in this summer. They’ve gone about their business differently than other teams. Heck, they don’t even officially have a single All-Star on their roster. But they’ve still compiled a deadly and threatening team that is going to cause problems for every other squad – even star-studded ones like the Lakers and Clippers – all season long.

Next: Vince Carter should be next vet that the Utah Jazz pursue

A new era of NBA basketball is officially upon us. And it’s one where the Jazz’s chances are as good as ever, even if the LA Clippers pulled off a shocking move that appears to have given them a slight edge for now. This upcoming season is very much a year where anything could happen in the Wild, Wild Western Conference.

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AD trade a game-changer in the Wild West

Ryan Aston , 2019-06-16 04:53:48
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Anthony Davis finally got his trade to the Los Angeles Lakers. As a result, the landscape has changed once again for the Utah Jazz and the rest of the West.

Given the Golden State Warriors’ NBA Finals loss to the Toronto Raptors, as well as news that the Dubs will be likely be without the services of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson next season, it seemed — if only for a moment — that the Utah Jazz could really make a play for the West’s top honors in 2019-20.

Here at The J-Notes, my partner-in-crime Jared Woodcox wrote about just that scenario a couple of days ago and, man…it was hard not to get juiced reading it. You never root for injuries, of course, and my heart goes to Durant, Thompson and fans in the Bay Area, but still — one couldn’t deny that opportunity was knocking.

Then Saturday happened.

Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the New Orleans Pelicans agreed to a deal to send Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round picks, one of which will be the fourth overall selection in Thursday’s NBA Draft.

That could end up being a huge haul for the Pels, but, in the end, the Lakers got the marquee talent in the trade and a top-five performer league-wide. Now, AD will team with the best player on the planet in LeBron James and, all of a sudden, Utah’s pathway to the front of the Western Conference feels a lot less clear than it did 24 hours ago.

And, even then, it wasn’t exactly a slam dunk. The Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers were already right there to duke it out for the big prize. Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets felt like the favorites out of the gate despite the organizational craziness that seems to be going on there right now.

The Davis trade muddies the waters even more. Sure, there’s always the chance the Lakers could see this thing go sideways on them a couple of years down the line when LBJ is in his late 30s, but in the here and now, the Lake Show is right there with the best of the West (and in the league at large) and we’ve yet to even hit free agency.

Regardless of what happens with them, I’ll And-1 the growing opinion that the time is nigh for the Jazz to take some shots on the open market and shoot for the moon while the Warriors are ailing.

But, even if they do manage to snag a top guy — a Tobias Harris, a Kemba Walker, a D’Angelo Russell, maybe a Mike Conley, maybe Jrue Holiday becomes available — there’s a better-than-average chance now that they’ll still have a hard row to hoe.

As ever, the Western Conference is a murder’s row, even with the Warriors on the mend.

When I started penning this piece, it was actually set to be a piece about betting odds, specifically ’19-20 NBA championship futures. I couldn’t fathom why oddsmakers were already calling the Lakers the favorites in the literal sense; the Ceasers Sportsbook was giving them 4-to-1 odds before they even made a move.

Sure, those numbers are mostly about driving betting action, but it felt like a statement nonetheless. The Lakers were being given credit for moving and shaking without actually having done so and, frankly, it bugged me.

Welp, the moving and shaking has actually happened now.

And while I’m not quite ready to say that the Larry O’Brien Trophy is instantly headed back to La-La Land, I definitely feel less good about the Jazz’s chances of snaking a trip to the Finals.

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GSW injuries suck, but they've left the West wide open

Jared Woodcox , 2019-06-14 13:00:35
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The unfortunate injury situation of the Golden State Warriors has left the Western Conference wide open for the Utah Jazz and their foes in the 2019-20 season.

Let me put something bluntly here. Injuries suck.

Regardless of if they happen to your best friend or your worst enemy, the horrible fate of injury woes isn’t something you ever want to see. Unfortunately, the former defending champion Golden State Warriors got a nasty dose of such misfortune at the worst possible time.

In Game 5 of the NBA Finals, after returning to action from a calf strain sustained earlier in the postseason, Kevin Durant ruptured his Achilles. Just one game later – a crucial Game 6 – Klay Thompson tore his ACL.

The devastating blows resulted in the Warriors coming up short and forfeiting a shot at a championship three-peat, instead allowing the opposing Toronto Raptors to win their first championship in franchise history. However, more than damaging the Golden State Warriors this year, the injuries may play an even more devastating role down the road for them.

Both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson are set to hit free agency this summer, meaning both their individual and the team’s decisions regarding them was going to be tough. Now each is faced with a grueling decision – stay or go, pay the max or let them walk, take a chance or play it safe. The dilemmas are endless.

While the Warriors are caught dealing with tragic blows to two of their best players, though, the cruel reality is that their catastrophic downfall opens up a window of opportunity for just about every other team in the Western Conference, including the Utah Jazz. Now, by no means is this anywhere close to a celebration of injury – that would be horrible and far from my intended message. My point is, with the Warriors reeling with injury struggles, sad and unfortunate though they might be, the door is wide open for a new champion of the West to emerge.

Achilles injuries are among the most devastating a player can suffer, and it’s not unrealistic to speculate that we won’t see KD back in action again for an entire calendar year, which would only allow him to return if his team (be it the Warriors or a new team he opts to join this summer) were in the NBA Finals. That would be a tough task for whoever is paying him yet not receiving the benefit of his talent while he rehabs.

Meanwhile, it would be surprising to see Klay out for such an extended period of time with the torn ACL, but that’s still a serious injury that takes an extensive amount of time and work to get back from. While it almost makes me shudder to say it about two such phenomenal talents, the reality is that both can be career-altering injuries and we have to accept that there is at least somewhat a possibility that one or both players will never be the same.

If such is the case and, assuming the Warriors keep both for next season (though that may be less than likely depending which free agency rumors about the pair are true), Golden State goes most/all of next year without Thompson and Durant in action, it will be nigh impossible for them to get back to the Finals yet again.

The Houston Rockets have already been close to toppling this mighty Warriors squad. Teams like the Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and, yes, even the Utah Jazz have proven they are worthy competitors. Even the LA Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers could be major threats next season depending how the summer shakes out.

Take away two All-Stars from the star-studded Warriors, and suddenly the West looks much more wide open. Even if Klay and Kevin do get back to suit up for Golden State sometime in the 2019-20 season, there’s no questioning that it will take some heavy adjustments and that they’ll be far from full force in time.

As such, if the Jazz were ever hoping to swing for the fences on a championship attempt, this year would appear to be the one to do it. Yes, Donovan Mitchell is still young and he’d need vast improvement still as would teammates such as Rudy Gobert and Royce O’Neale. But beyond that, the Jazz need to add more talent to really take the team to the next level and attempt to capitalize on this unforeseen and unfortunate but also very realistic opportunity.

Just like the Kawhi Leonard trade carried out at the perfect time, then culminating with injuries to the Warriors squad led to a dream scenario that helped the Raptors win a title, the Jazz should be ready to make a move of their own to follow that trajectory while the battered Warriors are significantly down for the count.

There’s been talk of Utah going after names like Kemba Walker, Tobias Harris and D’Angelo Russell, trading for a stud like Mike Conley, or even doing some combo of trade and free agent signing to add a pair of mid-tier guys that would elevate Utah’s overall competitiveness. Any one of these moves, based on opportunity and calculated risk-taking, would make the Jazz much better.

And with the Warriors seemingly out of the way – in a temporary fashion at least, as I’m certain they’ll be back (and will be no slouch even with only Stephen Curry and Draymond Green leading the way) – such moves could very well take the Jazz to the next level.

A perfect storm of unfortunate events to the West’s juggernaut and a jackpot summer for the Jazz could very well turn the tide and push the SLC squad into championship contending mode.

Next: Utah Jazz: What if the team was built only with players it drafted?

The West will be full of capable competitors aiming to do the same thing, though. The Warriors, despite being wounded, will still be a force to be reckoned with. And the Jazz have a lot of work to do this summer to make this dream anywhere close to reality.

But the fact of the matter is that Golden State’s regrettable misfortune has undoubtedly opened up a significant window of opportunity for the Utah Jazz. Will they seize that chance and strike? We’ll have a pretty good idea of that in a few short weeks as the NBA Draft (and potential trades surrounding it) takes place on June 20th and free agency begins just 10 days later on June 30th.

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Jusuf Nurkic injury could shake things up in the West

Jared Woodcox , 2019-03-27 12:00:26
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The tragic injury to Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic will have a dramatic impact on the Utah Jazz and the rest of the Western Conference playoff teams.

On Monday night, the unthinkable happened. Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic, who had been having a career season, went down with a gruesome leg injury that was ultimately determined to be a compound fracture in his left leg. This is the kind of thing you’d never wish on anybody, and it was an absolute tragedy to see.

I think I speak for all Utah Jazz and NBA fans alike when I say I wish Nurkic a speedy recovery and hope that this can lead to an enormous comeback for the promising big man. Fortunately, it was announced that he suffered no nerve or muscle damage, so ideally he can make a Paul George-esque return to full strength once he does return down the road.

While the fate that befell Nurkic is an unfortunate one, and one that I’m enraged by anybody who might consider celebrating it buoying their own team, there’s no denying that this injury shakes things up in the Western Conference.

After the Blazers win on Monday and the Houston Rockets loss on Tuesday, Portland moved to third in the West. With a stud like Damian Lillard leading the charge and just nine games remaining, it’s entirely plausible that the Blazers will maintain home court advantage and perhaps even that slot. However, once they get into the postseason, it’s possible that the Blazers simply will no longer have the mettle to keep up with whoever they face.

Nurkic has been an integral part of their success and is widely accepted as Portland’s second best player. Factor in as well that CJ McCollum remains sidelined with a knee injury and a status that is very much up in the air, and suddenly a surging Blazers team is looking less daunting than previously imagined.

Considering that the Blazers have a reasonably middling schedule left in terms of strength of opponent, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them stay in the top four with the Rockets narrowly passing them to get into third place. Meanwhile, the currently fifth-seeded LA Clippers have a much more difficult schedule to close out the year than the Jazz do, meaning Utah climbing into fifth is entirely possible.

That would result in a Jazz-Blazers matchup in the first round (assuming the Oklahoma City Thunder can be kept at bay) at the four-five matchup. While the Nurkic injury is an inarguable tragedy and a damaging disappointment, the sad but true fact of the matter is that it worsens the Blazers to the point that this likely presents one of the more favorable matchups for the Jazz if it pans out this way.

Damian Lillard would still be a menace, and the depth and strong coaching of the Blazers remains a problem. However, with Nurkic and potentially McCollum out of action, landing Portland in the first round will likely be a coveted spot among West teams at this juncture.

If we’re aiming to predict the playoff positioning, it’s also entirely possible that the Jazz end up sixth and the Blazers remain in third, which would also pit the two teams against each other. This could potentially be a best case scenario, as not only would it give the Jazz a wounded Portland squad in the first round, but it would also allow them to avoid a potential matchup with the presumed top-seeded Golden State Warriors (assuming they stave off the Denver Nuggets) until the Western Conference Finals.

This has been an up and down season for the Jazz, make no mistake about it. And at times it’s looked as if they may not have anywhere near the playoff success they’ve enjoyed the past two years. However, while I’d rather see every team be at full strength, if Utah lands the Nurkic-less Blazers in the first round, it’s quite likely that they’ll be looking at a third straight year of advancing to the second round, if not further.

Next: Utah Jazz editorial: Over the top Jimmer fandom was an embarrassment

The Jazz won’t be the only team aware of this, and other teams may seek to do battle in the first round against Portland if they can swing it as well, meaning that this fateful injury could very well alter the landscape in the Western Conference standings entirely. That aside, I wish nothing but the best for Nurkic and my heart goes out to him and his teammates at this time.

Hopefully he’ll be back and pushing the Blazers to new illustrious heights in no time.

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Utah Jazz will be in eighth spot in West by Saturday night

Jared Woodcox , 2019-01-07 01:36:17
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It won’t be easy, but the Utah Jazz have an excellent chance to find themselves in eighth place in the West by the conclusion of this upcoming week.

It’s been a roller coaster year for the Utah Jazz so far. They’ve had both some incredibly impressive performances as well as some complete duds that has made their 20-20 record as confusing at it has been disappointing.

For the longest time, the Jazz simply couldn’t find a way to get back to .500 until they finally did so with an impressive road win in Detroit on Saturday night. Donovan Mitchell had one of his best performances of the season after a terribly slow start, and in all, the team looked passionate and connected.

And personally, I think that’s a sign of good things to come. In fact, I’m feeling so good about the Jazz after last week’s pair of victories, that I’m ready to go out and make a bold declaration – the Utah Jazz will be in eighth place in the West by this upcoming Saturday night.

Currently, Utah is just a mere game behind the Los Angeles Lakers, who have begun to plummet down the standings due to injury to LeBron James. Since their Christmas Day victory over the Golden State Warriors in which James got hurt, the Lakers are just 1-5, and are fresh off an embarrassing 22-point defeat to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.

And not only do the Jazz have a great chance to leapfrog them considering that the two teams will play one another on Friday, but one look at the two teams’ schedules is enough to feel pretty confident that Utah will surpass them.

The Jazz begin this upcoming week in Milwaukee, which will be a challenge that I actually have going down as a loss. But from there, Utah faces Orlando, Los Angeles most likely without the injured LeBron, then the Chicago Bulls all at home. Meanwhile, the Lakers visit the Dallas Mavericks and host the Detroit Pistons before visiting the Jazz on Friday.

Neither the Mavs nor the Pistons are the most formidable of foes, but considering how poorly the Lakers have played without James, I’m feeling quite confident that the Lakers will drop at least one of those games, if not both, as well as the contest in Salt Lake City. Therefore, while I have the Jazz going 3-1 in this upcoming week, I’d be shocked to see the Lakers do any better than 1-2.

If it does indeed play out that way, then on Saturday night following the conclusion of the Jazz-Bulls game, the Jazz will be at 23-21 whereas the Lakers will be at 22-21, putting Utah a half-game ahead for eighth place.

I suppose it should be noted that the Jazz will also need to out-perform the ninth place Sacramento Kings who trail them by only half a game, but even if Sacramento matches the record I’ve predicted for Utah by going 3-1, the Jazz will still have the edge. The Kings may very well do just that, as they face the Magic, Suns, Pistons and Hornets this week. But as up and down as the Kings have been, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did slightly worse.

Still, the Kings and Lakers will certainly be right there to challenge the Jazz for that eighth spot this week. Nevertheless, I’m still sticking with my prediction that the Jazz will move into eighth place this upcoming week. The question that will remain if such ends up being the case, though, is can they stay there? Or, better yet, can they continue to climb?

Next: Utah Jazz injury update: Exum and Sefolosha OUT for Monday’s bout

The Jazz will have to show a lot more consistency than they’ve displayed for much of the season, but there’s no questioning that their schedule is starting to lighten up whereas the Lakers are struggling and the Kings are coming back to earth as losers of four straight games. With all that coming together, I love Utah’s odds moving forward.

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