Utah's schedule for the upcoming season dropped today. Here are the highlights and early takeaways
National TV: The Jazz will be on a national channel 26 times. 12 games on the networks (7 ESPN games, 4 TNT games, and a Sunday matinee on ABC against the Suns), and 14 games on NBA TV. If you're a League Pass subscriber like me, including blackouts you're going to be getting roughly 50 games through LP. Still worth it in my opinion, but something to keep in mind as the Jazz get a little more national TV love.
The early season will be a relative cakewalk: Utah will feast on relatively weak competition for the first 2.5 months of the season (35 games or so). Through New Year's Day, the Jazz only play 4 real title contenders (Bucks, Clippers, and Philly twice). Meanwhile we get the Kings twice, the Timberpups three times, OKC twice, Washington twice, the Spurs twice, and games against Houston and Cleveland.
I usually use a simple rating system to evaluate the Jazz schedule, breaking the season up into "easy," "medium," and "hard" games. Easy games are worth 1 point, medium games 2 points, and hard games 3 points. It's a rough system but surprisingly effective, and on a season-long level pretty accurately reflects hard and easy stretches.
By my system, our average game difficulty (AGD) in October (6 games) is 1.67, November (15 games) is 1.73, and December is 1.71. Essentially for the first 2.5 months of the season, our typical game is easy-mediumish. We should absolutely rack up wins, and if we aren't at the top of the standings by New Years we're going to have to reevaluate things. Because once 2022 hits. . .
The last 3+ months of the schedule is BRUTAL: Naturally, if we have a cakewalk for the first 2.5 months, we have to pay the piper eventually. That bill comes due in 2022.
Who's on tap in the new year? In January we face Golden State twice, Phoenix twice, Denver twice, and the Lakers. Our AGD shoots up to 2.2. Things get even harder in February as we head into the All-Star Break, with more games against Phoenix, Golden State, Denver, Lakers, and the Nets and an overall AGD for the month of 2.33.
No rest in March, as the league crammed an unreal 17 games into the month, with no more than 1 day between any games all month and three back-to-back sets. We even have a rare 5 games in 7 nights scenario starting on the road at OKC on March 6, in Dallas the following night, home against Portland on the 9th, back on the road to San Antonio on the 11th, and back home the next day to play Sacramento. Our overall AGD for the month is a still-high 2.12, and we play more tough games against the Clippers (twice), Milwaukee, Brooklyn, and the Lakers.
We close things out in April with an AGD of 2.2, including tough games against Phoenix and Golden State.
The closing stretch will be especially mettle-testing: Here is the schedule from March 14 to April 10 (15 games):
Bucks, Bulls, Clippers, @Knicks, @Brooklyn, @Boston, @Charlotte, @Dallas, @Clippers, Lakers, @GSW, Memphis, OKC, Phoenix, @Portland.
Only the Memphis game has more than 1 day rest. Effectively an 8 game road trip with the Laker game the only one in that span in SLC. And once again letting our seeding fate lie with Dame Lillard and the Blazers.
We will definitely know who our team is heading into the playoffs. Either we rise to that challenge or we are going to be exposed. If momentum is a real thing in pro sports, we'll see it as we close the season and head into round 1.
Record Prediction: 54-28: Again, using my simple rating system, I see us having 27 easy, 31 medium, and 24 hard games over the course of the year. I give us an 85% chance of winning "easy" games, 65% chance of winning "medium" games, and a 45% chance of winning "hard" games. Those are rough approximations but they typically translate to an accurate prediction over the course of a season. Using those metrics, we land at an expected record of 54-28.
Given how stacked the West is, that could land us anywhere from 1-3 seed, and missing by just a few games could drop us to the 4-5 range. Phoenix, LAL, and Golden State should be right in the thick of it, and Denver and LAC will likely be playing extremely well by the end of the season if Murray and Kawhi get healthy.