Boy, how did we get here?
As the Jazz fall to the 5th seed in the West after a loss last night in Dallas, you can’t help but reflect on one of the most bizarre of season’s the organization has ever had.
After a 26-9 start to the season, the Utah Jazz have gone just 19-21 since. Injuries and COVID-absences have certainly affected the team since the New Year, but internal turmoil, identity loss, and execution issues are casting a long shadow over the team’s playoff outlook and what their future holds.
The storyline for how we arrived at a frankly depressing point in Jazz history is far too detailed for a single Downbeat but is certainly worth highlighting at some future point. Regardless of how we got here, it’s clear expectations need resetting.
Early Season Expectations
While expectations always vary, fans and media members alike expected the Jazz to again compete for the #1 seed in the Western Conference this season. Not only has Utah underperformed, the Phoenix Suns have shined as the best team in the league, securing that seed weeks ago.
It was expected that Utah would make and should win a 2nd round series. After all, they were up 2-0 on the LA Clippers in the West Semi-Finals just a year ago and experienced two straight 1st round exits in years prior. You may recall Gobert, Mitchell, and others regularly citing the Larry O’Brien trophy as the goal.
As of now, it’s extremely difficult to imagine a 1st round win let alone a 2nd round win with PHX and the Memphis Grizzlies having demonstrated themselves as far superior weighing talent and cohesiveness. Furthermore, the Dallas Mavericks are playing their best ball of the season.
Utah was also expected to focus on health and playing their best ball heading into the playoffs. Yet, Bojan Bogdanovic has missed 8 straight with a calf injury while Rudy Gobert sat last night with his own leg injury. Lastly, Donovan Mitchell aggravated his ankle in the Dallas game.
No matter how you dice it, the Jazz aren’t in spitting distance of their initial goals and the expectations they even had for themselves.
The Utah Jazz are amidst one of their most tumultuous stretches. Losers of four straight with injuries piling up and only 7 regular season games remaining.
Of the 219 regular season games played by the team since trading for Mike Conley and signing Bojan Bogdanovic, the Jazz have had all four of Mitchell-Conley-Bogdanovic-Gobert play in just 55% of them (120). Of the 18 playoff games over the same span, just 5 of them featured those four together.
It’s looking increasingly likely that we’ll have a third consecutive postseason without all four healthy at once.
Since 2019-20, when Jazz have 3 of Mitchell-Conley-Bogdanovic-Gobert in the postseason:— Adam Bushman (@adam_bushman) March 28, 2022
-1.8 net rating
+1.0 TS% advantage
The Jazz are sitting in a precarious spot at the moment, just 2.5 games out of the 7th seed. They’re currently slotted in the 4/5 spot to play Dallas without home court advantage, not to mention a juggernaut Suns team waiting in the 2nd round should Utah progress.
Per Basketball Reference, Luka and the Mavericks are at an 80% probability to be Utah’s first round matchup. This will certainly prove difficult on a multitude of levels.
The Mavericks will undoubtedly have the best player on the floor and have coincided playing their best ball as the playoffs begin. Furthermore, we saw a discouraging strategy by the Mavericks last night.
Luka Doncic routinely put Mike Conley in the PnR to force switches onto him and kept going 1-on-1, forcing Mike into tough positions, fouls, and ultimately help rotation from the rest of the team. The Jazz will surely see a lot of this in the playoffs.
Things aren’t look great as the postseason comes to a close.
When we talk about resetting expectations, that isn’t to say the original expectations for the Utah Jazz aren’t still possible. Just look at the turnaround the Boston Celtics have seen. Should the Jazz put it all together, catch fire, and see some good fortune in regards to their opponent, they can absolutely fulfill all of their expectations.
However, those outcomes are no longer in the range of likely possibilities so we should reorient our expectations to those most likely outcomes.
The expectation should now be to remain competitive in the 1st round and make an appearance in the 2nd. We should hope that they put aside internal differences, refocus on defense, get healthy, and execute on both ends.
Frankly, at this stage, that’s a lot to ask and some of it is out of their control. But here’s where we are.