Let’s state the obvious here - the Utah Jazz (46-29) have made a huge jump this season and they’ve battled the opponents, referees, the schedule, and injuries and are going to the NBA Playoffs for the first time since Josh Howard was on the club. That’s awesome. They are currently the 4th best team in the Western Conference and have a shot of getting 50 wins and home court in the first round. That would be a tremendous season.
Against the Western Conference they are 27-19, which is a pretty neat .587 winning percentage. It’s a little off their season value of .613, but c’mon - the East is there to be feasted on. The Conference win % is 4th best in the West. And that’s great, Utah is 4th best in the conference with their overall record, and with their conference record.
The problem is when you look at the dissonance between their overall and conference record against their record against the Western Conference playoff teams. Against the Top 8 their win percentage is only .333, which is 8th. Against the Top 5 it’s only .364, which is 7th. And against this chase group (Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Memphis Grizzlies) the Jazz are 3-9, a .250 value and a 12th out of 15th place finish.
- 4th overall record
- 4th vs. West
- 8th vs. West Playoff Teams
- 7th vs. West Top 5
- 12th vs. the three teams directly behind Utah in the standings
That’s a worry, especially because the Jazz have lost the season series to LAC, OKC, and MEM all 1-3. This means that Utah, as we all know because this isn’t our first year following sports, has to finish with a better record than those three teams to remain ahead of them.
By the way, I found out these rankings because - as all clinically insane people do - I stayed up all night long and made a matrix of the conference.
N.B. Yellow cells are for series that are not yet complete.
Utah isn’t the only team that has trouble against the Best teams in the West. But they have trouble right behind them.
When you look at the ordinal ranks you see normal-ish things. Golden State is #1 across the board. Houston gets #3 #4 #4 #4 ranks. The Clipjoint is #5 #2 #5 #2. There’s a level of uniformity out there. Even at the middle and bottom of the conference you see it too. New Orleans is #10 #13 #13 #14. Phoenix is #14 #15 #15 #15.
There is a strong correlation between these team’s records against the West and against the Top 8 (0.856). There’s a strong correlation between these team’s records against the West and against the Top 5 (0.801). There’s an iffy but I’ll go with it correlation between these team’s records against the West and against that UTA/LAC/OKC/MEM glut (0.679).
And that’s why Utah’s #4 #8 #7 #12 ranks look that much more strange. The only other team that isn’t grouped together in some normal order is Portland, who has ranks of Conference Record #8, vs Top 8 #7, vs Top 5 #12, vs UTA/LAC/OKC/MEM #5.
So it is strange, and quite unique. And the fact is that the Jazz HAVE lost those important games to close rivals.
vs. Los Angeles Clippers:
- UTA at LAC, 75-88 (-13)
- LAC at UTA, 72-88 (-16)
- LAC at UTA, 114-108 (+6)
- UTA at LAC, 95-108 (-13)
vs. Oklahoma City Thunder:
- OKC at UTA, 109-89 (+20)
- OKC at UTA, 95-97 (-2)
- UTA at OKC, 106-109 (-3)
- UTA at OKC, 104-112 (-8)
vs. Memphis Grizzlies:
- MEM at UTA, 96-102 (-6)
- UTA at MEM, 82-73 (+9)
- UTA at MEM, 79-88 (-9)
- MEM at UTA, 95-102 (-7)
It looks bad, and it is bad. But there’s a reason why Utah lost. And it’s not just because “Utah is a paper tiger and not as good as their record.” Oh course it can’t be that, it’s a mix of that plus the schedule, and plus injuries. Utah’s record is a testament to the depth of this team. What this team is like when they are healthy . . . it’s just on another level.
Utah’s starters (George Hill, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert) have played in 13 games together this season. In those games they are 11-2, and have beaten some big name teams like, you know, the World Champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers. But more on all of that later in another post.
The Jazz don’t have the best record they could have against the best of the West. True. But this team is better than their record. And we’ll see it come playoff time if everyone is healthy.