With over 30 different teams and 450 world class athletes, the NBA is a tough league. Since the first season after the merger between the NBA and ABA in 1967, there has always been one team at the top. This year that race is tighter than ever. With the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers at the head of each of their conferences, there are a lot of unnoticed conflicts lower in each division. Historically dominated by the Oklahoma City Thunder (OKC for short), this season's Utah Jazz team is poised to take first place in the Northwest Division for the first time since the 2007-08 season after Kevin Durant's departure from OKC to Golden State. This article will take a look at how feasible winning the division is for the Jazz compared to the reigning champion, the OKC.
Northwest Division Teams, Contenders:
Before declaring any team the champion of the division, it is important to note they are only two real contenders. With the Minnesota Timberwolves stuck near the bottom end of the standings due a combination of poor veteran leadership and a new coach, the only other two teams with a small chance to win the division are the Portland Trailblazers and the Denver Nuggets. Both teams are currently competing for the 8th seed in the Western Conference and are expected to rack up plenty of more losses before the season ends meaning their hopes are limited at best.
The elimination of those teams reveals the only likely contenders; the OKC and the Jazz. Currently, both teams are neck and neck in the standings and #1 and #2. At only one game apart, the division title is up for grab between both teams. Still, despite being right next to each other in standings, the path for the title is much clearer for Utah.
Utah Jazz vs. OKC Comparison:
Although it may look like the Utah Jazz are very similar to OKC when comparing their records, the reality is much different. Following Kevin Durant's departure, the OKC are very deficient in the offensive end and super reliant on their primary scorer in Russell Westbrook. This deficiency on the offensive end compares unfavorably to Utah's offense which is very versatile due to them having numerous options from all positions. Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood provide All-Star talent, Rudy Gobert is among the best big men in the NBA, as he is one of eleven big men to average a double-double this season and is leading the league in TS% (true shooting percentage). Overall, even after missing their starting point guard George Hill to injury, the Utah offense is ranked favorably over the Thunder.
Another reason the Jazz are expected to win the Northwest Division title is their depth. The Utah roster is very deep compared to the OKC, with bench scoring and vision in found in Dante Exum, elite three-point shooting in Joe Ingles and rim protection in Derrick Favors. The only reason the Jazz and OKC have obtained a similar record due to an abundance of injuries. Despite being the NBA's most injured team this season by having players miss a combined 42 games due to injury or illness, the Jazz still has the top spot in the Northwest Division. Even without their full roster, the Jazz demolished the OKC in their first game this season winning by over 20 points. The combination of an excellent supporting cast along with Star players provides the Utah Jazz with a huge advantage over the OKC towards securing the Northwest Division championship.
For the Jazz to continue their path to winning the division title, they must play conservatively. The Jazz must rest players during back-to-back games and limit minutes accordingly to prevent injuries further. Similarly, getting more minutes out of the bench in close contests could lower the risk of injury in their star players. In conclusion, the Utah Jazz are on the path to win the Northwest division and should adequately rest their players to prevent further injury and win.