Last night the Utah Jazz won ugly against the Philadelphia 76ers, Yucca has you covered with the game recap here. But there was more than just one game last night. All five teams in the 6-10 lotto pick range were in action, and 10 of 15 Western Conference teams. Let's dig in!
Western Conference Standings:
There really are a few groupings here, and I'm going to use the Tour de France terms so excuse me. Er, I mean "excusez-moi!"
- The breakaway group is real. And as of today it's just two teams, Golden State and Memphis.
- There's a laaarge Peloton after them that's everyone from Seed #3 to Seed #7 in the West. These five teams are separated by 3.5 games total. Every night in the West counts, and invariably these teams are going to face each other most of the way down the stretch.
- There's the "bubble" group next of three teams all fighting for one playoff spot: OKC, New Orleans, and Phoenix. It's hard to fight your way into the Western Conference playoffs, you need a bit of everything to get there, luck, health, talent, and luck (a second time). Two of these teams had bad injuries, and the other had to blow up their core because of, I'm guessing at the root of these problems, financial differences? Probably. Only one of these teams will make it. It should be OKC. I'm fine with that. I don't know what the Tour de France word for "bubble team" is, so, uh, "Bulle d'espoir?"
- I also don't know what the next two groups are called in French so this is where the analogy ends. Utah, Denver, and Sacramento are in the doldrums -- where you are not expected to be a threat for the playoffs, and not expected to get drastically better through the draft anymore. All of those teams have younger cores, for the most part, and the "getting better" is now in the hands of development. I think all three of those teams don't want to be the bottom 5 of the league anymore anyway. So that works out, maybe.
- There are two teams in the West who occupy a spot in the Bottom 5, and that's LAL and MIN. And those teams are far and away from the rest of their Western peers.
At this late stage of the game, March, I don't expect there to be much inter-group movement. I don't think the Jazz are going to make a move to be a bubble team. I don't think the Thunder are going to join the #3 to #7 group. And I don't think a team like Houston or Portland will join the break-away group. What you see is what you get right now in the Western Conference caste system. Crap, that's probably a better analogy than cycling!
What happened last night?
Just in the West there were a few cool things, for sure.
- MEM beat LAL, 97-90
- SAS beat DEN, 120-111
- GSW beat DAL, 105-89
In each of these cases the better team won. As for the rest of the games, well . . .
- BOS beat NOP, 104-98 -- so maybe the Celtics are for reals?
- PHX beat BKN, 108-100 (OT) -- a huge 4th quarter was surprising from the Suns
- HOU beat DET, 103-93 -- James Harden had 38 / 12 / 12 . . . . so that's crazy
- UTA beat PHI, 89-83 -- a startlingly low final margin
|Team||W||L||%||GB||Conf||Streak||Last 10||Top 3|
This is like the West standings, because I think there is a clear breakaway group here, with New York, Philly, Minny, LAL, and Orlando. No one is catching them. And who cares about Orlando, they're going to pick this year's version of Aaron Gordon again and then fire their head coach midseason for not winning games. The other East teams are in more dire straights. My darkhorse for winning the lotto this year is Minny though.
But anyway, the group with the Jazz in it shifts almost every day. And it's really a group that goes from the 13th team in the West to the 7th best team in the East. From Sac to Cha the games behind difference is just 6.0 games. That's 6.0 games between 9 spots. I expect there to be lots of changes as I continue to track this every day until the draft.
From spot #15 to 20 you have the 10th seed in the West being 5.5 games away from being the 4th seed in the East. Feel shame, East. Feel shame.
What are we looking at?
I think in both cases, the playoffs and the lotto, the Jazz are going to stay away from any extremes. There's a buffer between them and the playoff bubble group, and there's a buffer between them an the Top 5 most lotto balls group. It's likely that they don't move much from where they are now (#11 in the West, #9 in the lotto standings) till the end of the regular season. I'm okay with that. At this rate they are going to win 33.6 games, give them a +/-1.5 and they could make that 35 win mark so many people were aiming for.
Personally, the playoffs are a dumb goal if the goal is just to make it. I'd rather make the playoffs when the team is a) good enough to do something in them, and b) there's opportunity to advance in them. The Rockets peaked during a no-Jordan time and won two rings. The Spurs peaked after all the 80s/90s contenders grew old. The Jazz peaked at the wrong time last time, and didn't get any hardware; while two teams they used to beat up on every year in the old Midwest division did. Our team is now run by a former Rockets / former Spurs guy in Lindsey. And that's why it's okay that the team set back the time-table when they drafted a 18 year old last year. Utah's climb will happen as MEM, SAS, DAL, and LAC all fall; and during the uncertainty for GSW, HOU, and OKC retaining their core together as contracts expire.
Furthermore, I think that the high lotto spots are no longer needed for this team. They have plenty of game changers, they just need to get better / develop / get more experience. I'm cool with how things are going now.
What big games are happening tonight?
- MEM @ NOP -- which actually means nothing for the Jazz, as both teams are too far away to matter
- PHX @ CLE -- Utah is 7.0 games behind Phoenix, but I don't even care if we pass them
- SAC @ MIA -- I don't think this has been classified as a "big game" since the time of Vlade, C-Webb, Steve Smith, and Glen Rice
- HOU @ DEN -- this should be a blowout, I only list it here because Denver is the team we could "catch" as they are only 3.5 games in the lead for ping pong balls
All in all, not much really happening tonight from our Jazz point of view.