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Utah Jazz 2010-2011 Season Review: #1 Ghosts of the Delta Center

A week before the season’s end I was trying to figure out how I would talk about this past year. There were ups and there were downs. It was a rollercoaster year. Or perhaps like a zebra, depending on who you asked. But we all know the hard facts: we didn’t make the playoffs (or even win 40 games); had our usual slew of injuries; and also our team blew up as the head coach and top assistant retired midseason, and then in a matter of days the front office traded away our franchise player. This last season was both disappointing and really hurt as a fan. Not only was the team struggling on the court, but a number of questions seemed to pop up in the minds of the faithful. At one time or another almost everyone from the third string center to the late team owners’ eldest son was criticized for perceived inadequacy. Even my posts started to suck because I wasn’t giving 100% anymore. (No Amar, that’s not why your posts suck . . . )

My original season review was supposed to be a short series of observations. Initially it was titled "10 or 11 points about the Utah Jazz 2010-2011 Season", and was supposed to be about 2000 words. This theory (of one short post) was quickly quashed when I checked and had 1.4k words on Mehmet Okur alone, without even using any statistics. I needed to get the season review out of the way because I have other things I want to post that are in the pipeline . . . so without any further preamble, here’s the first out of 10 or 11 points about the Jazz’ most recent season:

Click on for the actual story . . .

Ghosts of the Delta Center

The Delta Center was the House that Larry H. Miller (pbuh) built. It was constructed to replace the previous home of the Utah Jazz, The Salt Palace, and built in record time. It was completed in 1991 and seats 19,911 rabid fans. The Salt Palace, on the other hand, only sat 12,616 rabid fans. That’s a seat filling capacity increase of +57,8% -- not including all the people you can jam into a luxury box. Why bring any of this up? Well, Jazz fan confidence couldn’t be higher when Larry H. Miller and his people broke ground on a new, state of the art, arena for the Jazz to play in. It was a huge investment, and a statement to both the Jazz players and fans that this team was both a huge draw and a real contender.

A very real point of pride for me, a Jazz fan who has never been to a Jazz home game, is that the team is beloved enough to fill out despite all the limitations of being in a small market. (By comparison, check out the attendance in places like New Orleans, or Milwaukee) I know that the fan support the franchise receives is felt by the players as well. The Jazz weren’t a bad home team in the Salt Palace (winning 82.9% of the time at home over the last 5 regular seasons in that gym) – but moving into the Delta Center made the Jazz nearly invincible. Beating the Jazz in Utah became newsworthy by itself that even a little boy growing up in Canada would be able to read about it in the hockey obsessed local newspaper. In the first year of use, the Jazz lost only 4 times there in the regular season, and only once in 9 playoff home games. Throughout the first decade the Jazz would finish with 5 or less losses at home a number of times, once even having only 3 losses. You could almost bank on a win at home. The only losers were the visitor for the most part. Even in the playoffs the Jazz still boasted an insanely high winning percentage.

The crowds were always loud and watching on TV I could notice a significant difference between home games in New York, or Indiana vs. home games in Utah. (Also it helped that back then they didn’t mic (or mute) the crowd noise, ah, the good old 90s) Now some teams pump in crowd noise (Oklahoma) in order to give it a great atmosphere. The Jazz franchise never had to do that. But greater than the pride of knowing that Jazz fans supported their team, was the fact that the Jazz took care of their business at home. And that was definitely something to be proud about as a Jazz fan.

History Lesson:

This past season neatly marks an interesting 25 year period in Jazz fandom: the last 5 years before the Delta Center; the 15 years of being called the Delta Center; and the first 5 years of being called the Energy Solutions Arena. With this time frame we have a pretty good sample size of data to look at. (That is, if you think that 2262 games is not chopped liver) Over the last 25 years the Jazz have been both a solid home team and a solid team over all. The Jazz average (again, over a 25 season span) 50.4 wins in a season (standard deviation of ±8.3 for you nerds like me out there). That’s not shabby at all. Also, this Jazz team averages 31.2 home wins a season out of a total of 41 total home games. Those are winning percentages of 61.5% overall and 76.1% at home. This includes the rise and fall of StocktontoMalone as well as the Ben Handlogten years. This also includes the "Andrei and Boozer are always injured" years. And yes, this includes this past year as well, where we lost our top two coaches and traded away our franchise player. Fluff aside, as Jazz fans we can be proud of our team, and proud of our fan base. Our team wins games. And our fans support the team. We’re a good team *and* we’re good fans. We don’t run away when the going gets tough (like the Portland Fans did). And our team didn’t pull up the stakes when they weren’t winning either. The numbers prove what I say – we have a rich tradition here (well, there …), and a very rich tradition of winning at home. Or at least we did until this season . . .

The Numbers:

The Jazz are accused of being a very good regular season team. That’s a back handed compliment, and an incorrect one especially since over the last 25 years (and 21 playoff trips) the Jazz AVERAGE FIVE playoffs wins each trip in. That means that the Jazz average getting to the 2nd round, which is nice when you couple it with the fact that –yes—the Jazz are a good regular season team too. Like I said, the Jazz average 50.4 wins a season. Those are good numbers. Here are the rest (that I’m willing to show you all today), divided into regular season and playoffs. If you want to see them put together you can click here.

Win Location is a percentage showing how many of a team’s total wins in a given season were home wins. The seasons with the higher percentage show a great reliance upon home wins by that particular team. Home Improvement is the numerical difference between the winning percentage (Wins / Total games) at home vs the winning percentage overall. For example in the 2000-2001 season the Jazz won 64.6% of the time overall, and 66.6% of the time at home. Meaning that they won +3.1% more at home than overall. Home Improvement is a show about an American TV Show host, his three children, misunderstood wife who was more educated than him, and his obscured neighbor Wilson shows, essentially, how much better the Jazz were at winning at home than overall. (Duh) .

N.B. the 1998-1999 regular season was lockout shortened to 50 total games (25 at home and 25 on the road). This was shorter than the regular 82 game grind. The Jazz finished this season with 37 total wins, 22 of them being at home. I bumped up the values to 82 games based upon the winning percentages in order to retain the integrity of the per season averages and other advanced math things that I’m not going to get into here.

This season at home

I harped about our suck at home (as seen in number of lost blowouts to other teams) early on this season. I talked about it all season long. I’m going to talk about it here now with a large frame of reference to compare it to. This season the Jazz went 21-20 at home – needing a win in the last game of the regular season against a team that was resting their best players and keeping the rotation guys out so there were no injuries before the playoffs started. In the season where our top 5 players (in terms of minutes played) were Andrei Kirilenko, Greg Ostertag, Raja Bell, Carlos Arroyo and Jarron Collins the Jazz went 28-13 at home. The next season, a 26 game win season, had the Jazz going 18-23 at home. This year the Jazz broke .500 at home by one game.

Why does this matter? Shouldn’t we give our team a pass in a very tough year? Maybe this is the "Tiger Mother" in me (I was raised in a strict Asian household), but if we’ve seen that the Jazz always kick butt at home (regardless if it’s the height of Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, and Mehmet Okur trio – or the post StocktontoMalone doldrums). And if always kicking butt is normal, babying them and letting abnormality go unexplored is negligence by the team and fans alike. This year we barely finished out of the red. This is unacceptable. The Jazz lost some bad games at home this year. I’m not going to go into the micro details about fouls per home game, or margin of defeat (like I was planning on). Here’s the easiest thing to see – the ratio of wins to losses:

A ratio boils it all down into a very small number comparison. It’s easy to understand. The Jazz (over the last 25 years) get 1.52 wins : 1 loss overall. At home this number is augmented to 3.10 wins to 1 loss. That means the Jazz win three games for every one they lose at home. And the Jazz win at home twice as much than normal. Easy, right? Some years are better than others, naturally. This year was very bad though. The team lost more games than they won (hence, the under 1.0 to 1 loss ratio); furthermore, the wins at home (usually a 3:1 ratio) was down to 1:1. The 3:1 ratio for home game superiority is based upon 1135 total home games. And this 1:1 ratio for this season was based upon an entire season – not the first 10 home games, or a month’s play. This was a season long trend that I guess I’ve been complaining about for an entire season. (A-ha! Consistency at last!)

So where did things go wrong?

The Jazz were still better at home than overall this season. But they were not that much better. The vast majority of our home losses were a result of us being one of the worst teams in our own conference – let alone simply just in our division. Losing one of the top players in the league (he was an All-Star, All-NBA, and Olympian) hurts because you lose whatever superstar calls you may get. More than that, you also lose a superstar who can make superstar plays. Losing a Hall of Fame head coach means that you may not get some calls as well. But more than losing the calls he may earn, you lose having a Hall of Fame coach on the sidelines making adjustments and finding ways to finish games. The Ghosts of the Delta Center aren’t simply just wishing for the name back. Nor is it simply wishing for a time when the refs stood by our side (like we see in that picture either).

The Ghosts of the Delta Center are the ghosts that currently haunt this young, inexperienced team. It’s the memory a group of guys that knew how to finish games, and who had the rep of taking care of business at home. A group of guys that were coached by a Hall of Famer and had collectively built up a standard of play at home that won the respect of the players on other teams – and the refs alike. It’s easy to see getting a screwjob as some games progress (that one Spurs game and one Celtics game stand out) – but a better team would just win those games. We were not a good team this year. This current Jazz team that is full of potential needs to placate these ghosts and recreate a winning atmosphere at home. Last season (well, the one that's continuing as we speak) we were a young team filled with guys who did not really know how to put other teams away. A team that didn’t finish games strong. A team that barely won overall – a bad team. But worse than being a bad team, though, was that we were also bad at home.

And that’s one of the 10 or 11 things I’ll remember about our team this 2010-2011 NBA season.