Today is the NBA Trade Deadline, and it’s also the first game back for the Utah Jazz after the All-Star break. We have a lot to cover, but first let’s Jam about the first half of the season, and our expectations for the second.
1. The Utah Jazz have missed so many rotation players and starters this season, but are still standing 26-26 at the All-Star Break. What are your expectations for the final 30 games?
Basketball John: I believe they'll finish with a winning record, but just barely. March and April are going to be a brutal stretch. 42-40 should get them into the playoffs.
MyLo: I expect the Jazz to go 18-12 to finish the regular season. If the Jazz didn't have to re-integrate Alec Burks at the tail end of the season I would say it would be higher but I imagine bringing Alec Burks into the rotation causes some adjustments and those adjustments cost the Jazz a couple games otherwise I'd say 20-10.
AllThatAmar: I think that, barring anything crazy to the roster and healthier guys down the stretch, the team is going to look really good. Their defense and offense will get it together and they will end up stringing together a few wins against good teams. I think they’ll end up above .500 and could reach 42 to 43 wins depending on injuries to other teams. It’s going to be tough. But I think our team is tough. And no one wants to have a piece of them going forwards.
2. The Win streak was fun, but it ended at only seven games. The New Orleans Pelicans game was rough to watch, but was it just an aberration -- or will this team continue to struggle without someone from the bench stepping up?
Basketball John: They need to make a trade to shore up the bench either by addition or by subtraction. I still don't know why Booker gets playing time at this point. The big man rotation should be Gobert/Favors/Lyles with Jeff Withey filling in when needed. Getting Alec Burks back to come off the bench will be huge down the stretch as the Jazz will have another ball handler and scorer.
MyLo: The Utah Jazz need, NEED, bench scoring. The Quin Snyder's dependence (showcase?) of Trevor Booker has allowed the Jazz to be disruptive on defense but also to be disrupted by Trevor Booker on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Throwing Trevor Booker into a lineup is like sending the Hulk into the fight, something is going to happen, but it usually is detrimental and destructive on both sides of the ball. Trey Lyles is starting to come into his own and appears ready to step into those larger minutes if provided the opportunity. Jeff Withey was great and his disappearance seems to be some combination of showcasing Booker and trying to get Trey Lyles the development minutes he needs to improve. The Jazz need bench scoring but I'm not sure they trade for it, not with Alec Burks returning and Trevor Booker's showcase slowly coming to an end.
AllThatAmar: Utah has shown that they can win some games with just their top players performing. But they can’t win every game that way. Someone from the bench needs to step up. Sometimes that’s Trevor Booker, occasionally that was Trey Burke (who may be traded today), but ultimately it needs to be Alec Burks. If he can apotheosize into the player he’s supposed to be then the Jazz are going to beat some good teams this year. Without anyone stepping up the Jazz starters will have to all be great every game. And that’s much harder to expect.
3. At the 7th spot right now, will the Jazz focus all efforts on a #PlayoffPush, or will the focus still be on "next season"? (As we all know, next season never seems to ever come...)
Basketball John: It's all playoff push right now. There's no reason barring injury that the Jazz miss the playoffs. Even if that means a sweep at the hands of San Antonio or Golden State, it's progress and something to build upon for next season.
MyLo: Neither. I said at the beginning of the season the Jazz would focus on development and see where that development took them. They are taking a very organic approach to the #PlayoffPush and they want to achieve success through the improvement of their team rather than hired mercies (trades for vetzz) that could help them in the short term while limiting development in the long-term. In Philly, the mantra is #TrustTheProcess, in Utah it's #TrustTheImprovement
AllThatAmar: I think the players want the playoffs. The Jazz org will be happy wither either result. The fans, well, we’ve never been out of the playoffs for this long, so we’re due. As someone who writes about the team I would love the playoffs as well. I’ve covered the draft and draft combine. I know what that’s like. I would love to have another chance to cover the Playoffs. Years ago I did when it was a sweep to the Spurs. It could be a personal "circle of life" issue for me if I get to cover another sweep before I hang it up.
But in the big picture the big picture still matters more than just trying to make the playoffs this year. Dante Exum has to return. Our guys like Trey Lyles and Rodney Hood will be that much better next year. It’s the natural process of being a better club every year from here on out. And I think that the playoffs will take care of themselves as a result.
4. Which version of the 2015-2016 Utah Jazz is the true one -- the team that can lose games at home to bad teams, or the team that can beat good teams on the road? Is the inconsistency a product of "youth" or do we blame most of our failings this season on the fact that 3 starters were out at the same time this year?
Basketball John: They've closed out a lot of close games recently. They're still going to slip at times, but you can see how Hayward, Favors, and now Hood have stepped up in crunch time.
MyLo: This might fall back to the recency bias but I believe the Jazz are starting to become the latter. The team that can beat good teams on the road. My dad and I were watching a game years ago when the OKC Thunder had the young talent but hadn't figured out how to win yet. My dad after watching OKC push the (playoff bound) Utah Jazz to their limit said, "I pray that no team allows that Thunder team to know how good they are. Once they realize they can play like that all the time, it's game over for the Northwest division." He was right. The next year OKC knew that they were more talented than everyone else and played like it. Utah is in a very similar spot. They are the deepest and most talented team in the Northwest division. Their players just don't realize it quite yet. Hayward and Favors know that, but there are nights when Rudy, Hood, Burks, Burke, and Lyles don't realize it yet. Once this young team realizes they are as talented if not more so than most of the Western Conference, look out, they'll be a wrecking crew.
AllThatAmar: Despite what Tyrone Corbin tried to do to me, I am actually an optimist. As a direct result, I think the Jazz are the good team, and not the bad team. I do not like making excuses, but this year there were plenty to go around. Specifically, the injuries really derailed this team. But unlike other Jazz teams with injuries, this team is still going to the playoffs. I have to respect that. And as a fan, that’s a team you want to root for. The youth is a reason for inconsistency, but a bigger reason is having to start two rookies this year for long stretches because of injuries.
5. Best win of the season so far? Worst loss of the season so far?
MyLo: Crazy enough to say the Dallas Mavericks win was important on so many levels. It had all the elements of what the Jazz have failed to overcome this season: inconsistent play, close game, overtime, and on the road. Usually all of that ends with a loss. But they fought back to win it.
Worst loss? I can't think of a game, I just think of Alec Burks. Most of the Jazz's losses make sense. They're a young team learning how to win on the backs of their young players. They're going to happen. After the all-star break, though, it's time to re-focus.
AllThatAmar: All of the overtime games. The four overtime wins were great, over the Pacers, Bulls, Mavericks, and Grizzlies. And the three over time losses were horrible, to the Knicks, Thunder, and Hornets in double OT.
6. What's your Jazz Kool-aid meter at right now?
Basketball John: My Kool-aid still needs to have a lot of sugar added. I'm hopeful but realistic about how this season ends. Making the playoffs and stealing a game against the Warriors or Spurs would be a great end.
MyLo: Watered down. I see the Jazz making the playoffs and having a swift exit from Golden State or San Antonio. If the Jazz can get to the 3 seed and face the Thunder though ... the Kool-aid might have an extra kick in it then.
AllThatAmar: I’m at a 7 out of 10.
Thank you to Basketball John, MyLo, and me.