If you look at the bottom line you can never be happy with an 0-4 road trip, especially when you style yourself as a "playoff competitive" team. (What is that, buzz-word for "bubble team?", because it's not the same thing as "competitive IN THE playoffs") The Utah Jazz did just that, going on a road trip and dropping games to the Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, and New York Knicks. Of course, that's just if you look at the bottom line. The Jazz were thiiiiiiiis close to winning the first three games, and if the ball bounces in our favor, we finish this important road trip 3-1. We also got key experience for younger guys, while helping to get two of our starters back on track after extended injuries. So it should be a net positive.
It just isn't because we failed to win a game. We've now lost 8 of our last 9 road games. And we were an Al Jefferson three pointer against the Toronto Raptors, and a listless Wizards team playing without their two best players, away from having gone 0-4 earlier in the season too. But we didn't there. And really, how we process this last loss to the Knicks, or how we process this entire trip depends on how closely you wish to examine this.
I've been a Jazz fan since the 80s. And as a Jazz fan who was crazy about the team I've also read a lot about the team. Furthermore, as a crazy person who is ALSO a Jazz fan (me being crazy is independent of my fanhood) I looked at the entire history of the Jazz all over again from 5 am today (with the spring forward clock deal, I guess 4 am). You know what I found out? Well, to be honest it should be: "You know what data confirmed my suspicions?" Well, I found out that the Jazz are horrible on road trips, and always have been.
First of all, I'm going to pump the breaks here -- if you are a person who is incapable of divorcing the idea that "a statement can display facts" from the idea that "if facts upset me, then it is a personal attack" then read no more. This is not a personal attack. This is not a "dis" on the Utah Jazz. This is a premise based upon 39 years of evidence. If you think a statement of fact is the same thing as a personal attack maybe reading the internet is not the thing you should be doing all day long. No one should get upset at the medical system if a lab result shows that their blood pH is outside the normal ranges. It's just a fact based upon data. Similarly, it is a fact that is based upon a standardized frame of reference. There is no value judgement attached to it. Road wins and road losses (like someone's arrest record, credit score, or webpage traffic data) only show things that are facts -- not qualitative, subjective opinions. We had a few really bad losses that should have been wins on this last road trip; but at the end of the day, we went 0-4.
It's not the end of the world. After all, in the last 39 years the Jazz have gone 0-4 on a trip 7 different times.
I looked at every extended road trip the team took (at least 3 road games in a row), for every season in team history (back when the team was in New Orleans to right now when the team has relocated to hell). I recorded how many times the Jazz lost on a certain type of trip, first by season. And then I totaled up the frequency of these events for the 39 years. I also broke down the frequencies by decade (1970s, 80s, 90s, 00s, and '10s). As I'm typing this up I think I will avoid the extra work to chart out the decade data because it appears to be a bit more indicative of the changes the schedule has gone through over all the years of NBA division realignment and expansion. And two lockouts. And changes in how wimpy today's players are. Over the eras the team is pretty consistent. Looking at four game trips, because we just had one, we've been swept 7 times. We've gone 0-4 on a road trip at least once every decade (70s, etc), and did it 3 times in the 80s. Since the 80s we've been playing more 3 game road trips and 5 game road trips (due to expansion and where teams are today), so we've never since matched the three different 0-4 trips in a decade low point. Of course, we sure have gone 1-3 on those trips quite a lot -- however, within the same frequency ratio of what is normal for us. (Again, a fact shouldn't hurt your feelings)
A main take-away is that the Jazz do not play the same number of extended road trip games a season (most of the games are 2 road games then back at home), and the team has not played the same number of type of road trips every year. For example the Jazz have gone on a seven game road trip four different times, and had trips of eight, nine, and 11 games in a row on the road before.
Lastly, this was fairly easy to do because of Basketball-Reference.com. So this would have taken eons to do before.
For ease of use, I've broken this down by road trip length: 3 games, 4 games, 5 games, 6 games, and 7 or more games. I'm also not going to show you my insane spread sheet because it's too early on a Sunday to peep through that window into my madness.
Three game trip n = 71; Four game trip n = 55
First of all, we've been swept (either 0-3 or 0-4) on these trips much more frequently than we do the sweeping (3-0 or 4-0), that's normal for all teams. I wouldn't worry about this at all because a) our NORMATIVE road record is already bad (30 years of data here), so I wouldn't expect it to get better on these road trips, and b) it's not the end of the world to skew to the losing side on road trips. Teams playing on the road are at a disadvantage, and it's supposed to be harder to win. And that's the case for the Utah Jazz, on 3 game roadies we've come up on the short end of the stick 73% of the time.
On 4 game roadies it's 48% of the time. And yes, 13% of the time on four game trips we lose EVERY game. That's one in eight. But let's remember that we're not a good road team and road games are supposed to be harder. It happens. It happened three different times during the 1980s: once before Stockton and Malone, once in Stockton's rookie year, and once after Stockton and Malone got rolling. Breaking it down by decade a bit more we also see that 2 of the four times we've gone 4-0 on a four game road trip have happened in the 90s, and the other two have happened in the 2010s -- Deron Williams, when motivated, had a great will to win.
Five game trip n = 50; Six game trip n = 18
The five game trip data is really the one I'm in love with because at 5 different games we have a large enough range to see "good-er" data. The fact that it's still n=50 means that this sample size should be large enough to mean something. And of course, the data represented here seems most like a normal bell curve. It, of course because it's the Jazz we're talking about here, skews towards losing more than winning. But again, winning on the road isn't something that happens with great regularity for our team. That one year where we went 5-0 on a trip was back during one of our Finals years (1997-1998).
The six game road trip data is a little all over the place, I am hesitant to get anything out of this data set. Especially since the frequency of 6 game road trips is not consistently placed through each of the eras. Further complicating things is the fact that while I broke this down by 'decades', they are not all 10 years long. The 70s era is from 1974 - 1979, only 5 seasons. The 2010s era is even less complete because we're in the middle of a season, that would only be our 4th season in this decade. What we do know is that we usually break even, or come out on the winning side here. Of course, the majority of the games we've played that were six game road trips happened with Stockton and Malone on the team. We . . . we don't have anyone like them on the team anymore. And we haven't played a 6 game road trip since the 2003-2004 season.
Seven games or more trip n = 7
If the data from the six game trips were not really usable but still presented, you could say that the data for the 7 games or longer trips are included here out of morbid curiosity. A lot of this data is skewed towards some of our worst Jazz teams ever. In the first season alone, 1974-1975, the Jazz went 0-4 on a road trip, 0-6 on another, and in the middle of the season went 0-11 on a road trip. Yes, we had an 11 game road trip in our first season. We were not a better team in the next few years, and the schedule makers weren't trying to help us either. In 1976-1977 the Jazz went 1-7 on another crazy road trip. Of course, our 1996-97 team went 6-1, and our 2001-2002 team went 6-3 on a nine game trip. Because this group is for 7 games AND ALSO more than 7 games the data represented up above is screwed up. (One part of the excel sheet recorded all the data by how many games lost during n trip length, and another tried to put it into record form)
But at least now you know how messed up the schedules used to be. You already knew how messed up my spreadsheets are.
What do I take away from this data? Well, the first is that there's a huge variation in the length of our road trips from season to season. We play half our games on the road, but on any given season it'll be split up with a bunch of 2 or 3 game stints, or some epic sojourns. The number of games we play per season on these trips seems to be consistent within an 'era' of basketball though. For the most part longer trips happened in the 70s and 90s, and now we get more three and four game trips.
The second take-away is that we're not great on the road, we knew this already though. We have been a .500 or better road team only eight times in the last 30 seasons, and only once since 2001. We're not really better or worse on the road trips, but the shorter trips (3 or 4 games) have us performing worse than the longer ones; in the modern era our longer trips (5 to 6 games) seem to be long enough for our team to sort itself out.
The third thing is that we've been blanked on trips before. We've failed to win a single game 15 times on three game trips, 7 times on four game trips, 9 times on five game trips, 1 time on six game trips, and once went 0-11 on a single road trip. Yup. This is the team we root for.
Does losing to the Bucks, Cavs, Bulls, and Knicks in short order make me want to jump off a tall building? No. It's frustrating because it's acute, and that we could easily see ourselves winning the first three games. Within the greater scope of the last 39 years of the team (aka. every year of this team) it's not something to think much about. It's a particularly poor result within the vacuum of one road trip. But put into better context with how we usually do on the road, and looking at our breakdowns of our performance on road trips . . . it's decidedly normal. After all, 48% of the time we play on a four game road trip we lose 3 or 4 of those 4 games. We split the difference and go 2-2 on those trips 33% of the time.
It is NORMAL to expect a team to not dominate on the road. And it's even more NORMAL to see the occasionally pathetic road trip from our team. In a vacuum you can be as mad as you want. I just don't think the 39 year long data set suggests that what we saw out of our team in terms of wins and losses on an extended road trip = OMG let's storm the castle with torches and pitchforks.
Of course, you may very well have other valid reasons for wanting to storm the castle with torches and pitchforks though. I could brainstorm a few: losing 8 of the last 9 road games, losing 7 of the last 8 games, dropping from a potential 6th seed to team that has the Los Angeles Lakers breathing down their necks. But even in those cases I think we all saw the schedule and recognized the challenge that March presents.
We're losing right now, and the acute sting if missing out on a 3-1 trip hurts. We went 0-4, it is bad; but it's neither the end of the world or out of character for our Jazz.