There are a couple things working in favor of the Jazz during the upcoming season. For one, they could play for one of the best records in the West and rely on their superior home court advantage to carry them through the playoffs. But secondly and maybe most importantly, the Jazz match up really well with teams in the West now. I know what you are thinking: "The Jazz are an inside defender away from being true contenders." But the truth of the matter is, that the Jazz will only have to beat 3 of the best Western (not the hotel) teams to get to the finals, which means that 2 of the next 5 teams that are in the way of the Jazz won't ever be in the way. But here is how it plays out in my mind.
1. The Houston Rockets- A pretty scary team on paper, but you have to think that the Jazz have the upper hand psychologically on this team. And if the Jazz have homecourt advantage in this one, it is a no brainer. If the Rockets and Jazz meet, then Artest will either have to primarily play the 3 and take away minutes from a productive Battier, or else play power forward and get demolished by Boozer on both sides of the ball. Yao is really good down low, but Okur is a good interior defender one on one. He can't block a shot, but he knows how to make Yao work. Add the fact that T-Mac has issues and I think we match up well with Houston. I am not saying we would win it easily, but we would three peat against them if we met them.
2. The Spurs- This is one of the teams that worries me most because they have our number. But with their age issues and health concerns, we should have a better record than they have and we would beat them with the home court advantage. But I am not counting on Manu to be healthy all season and if he isn't, they won't pose a threat. Plus, if the Jazz get over the mental block by beating the Spurs in San Antonio during the regular season, we will be okay.
3. The Hornets- Not a lot has to be said. We have played really well against the Hornets the last few seasons. Deron Williams matches up really well with Chris Paul. Williams can guard Paul better than Paul can guard Williams and Paul can't switch over and guard Brewer, because he is so much bigger. I think the Hornets will be very good this year, but it is one team that D Will thrives against.
4. The Blazers- Believe it or not, the Blazers probably pose the biggest problem for the Jazz. The Jazz like to pound it inside and get high percentage shots. The Blazers have a plethora of defensive bigs, even without Oden. They forct teams to shoot over them and pre-Korver era, it killed us. They also have streaky shooters, which tend to thrive against the Jazz. But the Jazz would have a major experience advantage over the Baby Blazers and that would probably carry them through.
5. The Lakers- Call me crazy for thinking we match up well with the Lakers, but if Bynum comes back healthy, I actually think it betters our chances against them. What was the difference in the Lakers series last playoffs? Lamar Odom dominating Boozer on both ends thoroughly. Boozer couldn't guard Odom and Odom was quick enough and long enough to bother Boozer offensively. When Bynum comes back, Okur can guard him pretty well and Boozer would match up more effectively with Gasol. Even if Gasol scored a lot, he wouldn't be able to contain Boozer. And Kirilenko would be able to force Odom into jumpers. Don't get me wrong. The Lakers would be the favorite in this series, unless Utah had the better seed. But if Bynum had have played in the last playoffs, the Jazz might have very well won.