Last night the Jazz beat down Deron Williams and the New Jersey Nets behind big performances and 32 minutes from each of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. Devin Harris also added 11 assists in 30 minutes. I guess we can put to rest the lingering effects of that Atlanta loss. Hopefully they never rear their head this season.
This is the first of several very big weeks left in the season for the Utah Jazz. Obviously the Jazz have a game at Boston tomorrow night, a home game against the Kings on Friday and an away battle against the Clippers on Saturday. That game in LA will have huge playoff implications, as the Clippers are one of the teams the Jazz can conceivably surpass in the standings. So how high or low can the Jazz truly go in the standings in the next 16 games? Let's break it down team by team:
Seventeen games left. Nine at home, 8 on the road. Nine games against current playoff teams, all against western conference playoff teams. Three and a half game lead over the Jazz and a five game lead over the Jazz in the tiebreaker. Probable record: 39-27. I really see little chance of the Jazz catching the Lakers.
Seventeen games left. Eight at home, nine on the road. Nine games against current playoff teams, with 7 of those against Western teams. Still have to play Oklahoma City twice. Difficult schedule. Probable record: 35-31. The Jazz could catch the Clippers, but it would probably require a win this Saturday in the Staples center, to gain a game on them and to break the tiebreaker with the Clippers. Jazz are a game and a half behind the Clippers and each team has one once in their head to head matchups.
Sixteen games left: seven at home, 9 on the road. Eleven games against current playoff teams, 7 of those against Western teams. Probable record: 38-28. Have won all three meetings with the Jazz and own the tiebreaker. Jazz have very little chance to catch the Mavericks.
Nineteen games left. Ten at home, nine on the road. Nine games against current playoff teams, seven of those against Western teams. Half game lead on the Jazz, but the Jazz own the tiebreaker with Memphis. Probable record: 36-30. Obviously a team the Jazz could catch.
Sixteen games left, nine on the road, 7 at home. Possibility of no Kyle Lowry the rest of the year. Ten games against current playoff teams, 7 of those Western Conference teams. Probable record: 35-31. Winner of game in Houston on April 11, will hold the tiebreaker. If the Jazz can win that game, they probably stay in front of Houston.
Sixteen games left, 10 on the road. Seven games against current playoff teams with 5 of those in the Western Conference. Difficult schedule. Utah owns the tiebreak between the two teams. Probable record: 35-31. Another super close call. Sheesh, this playoff race is going to be tough.
Seventeen games left, eight at home, nine on the road. Thirteen games against current playoff teams, all in the Western Conference. Yikes. Probable record: 32-34. Phoenix has a better record than they should, but they are going to fall short. Too difficult of a schedule ahead.
Of course, my predictions aren't concrete, but hopefully this gives you a good picture of what lies ahead. Obviously the Jazz could find themselves on the wrong side of some tiebreakers and out of the playoffs as easily as they could be a 5th seed. But as you can see, passing any of OKC, SA, LAL, or DAL is probably too much to ask. I think the 5th seed is our ceiling. And the game against the Clippers on Saturday will be huge with a capital H.
Of course, you can't talk about the playoff race without mentioning injuries, which will throw a wrench in all prognostications. Truthfully the Jazz's relatively good health, whether due to luck, or Tyrone Corbin's minute distributions, has been a big factor in their playoff push. Almost every other team has dealt with big injuries in the Western Conference. OKC lost Maynor, San Antonio has lost several games from Manu and others. The Lakers have been relatively healthy as have the Mavericks and Suns. The Clippers have lost Billups and Mo Williams. Memphis lost Zach Randolph and Houston Kyle Lowry. Denver has lost just about everybody at some time. And Minnesota lost their leader in Ricky Rubio.
Point is that the Jazz have been lucky. They have survived just fine without Raja Bell and Josh Howard and Al Jefferson for the couple games he has missed. Is there a Jazz player the team could lose and have a hard time recovering from? I don't think so. Hayward is probably our most valuable player right now, given the lack of depth behind him. And please don't come after me, if he goes down with an injury next game.
I know it is way too early to be talking about the draft, but I love it too much. But I am going to go out on a limb and predict who the Jazz will draft this June. Its this guy:
That's Damian Lillard. He fits a lot of needs. One, he can play some point guard. Two, he is an outside shooter. And three, he is a good citizen of Utah, so there are no worries about him fitting in with the team and the culture. There's just too many things that add up.
I am right about a lot of things. I consider myself a fairly knowledgable Jazz fan. But I am also not afraid to admit what I am wrong about. So here it goes. I was very wrong about this Jazz team. I might still be right that they are not a playoff team, but I pegged them for 28 wins this season and they are going to reach that milestone this week. Devin Harris, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap have all been better than I expected this season. I was wrong about Al Jefferson. I still don't see a way he can or should be in the long term plans of the Jazz, but he has become a good player that can contribute to a winning, playoff team. That wasn't true before this year. He still has his faults, like anyone, but he has learned to play as a good teammate within a structured system.
I was wrong about Alec Burks. I thought he lacked athleticism and an outside shot. I thought he'd be an average and inefficient scorer, but he's special. I was wrong.
In the spirit of full confession, what have you been wrong about in terms of the Jazz?