Tonight, the Utah Jazz (37-44) play their final game of the 2022-23 NBA season against the Los Angeles Lakers (41-39). This game, while almost completely meaningless for the Jazz (so long as they lose and retain their top-nine draft slot), holds significant playoff implications for the Lakers. If they beat Utah tonight and each of the New Orleans Pelicans and Golden State Warriors lose their respective games, the Lakers could save themselves from the Play-In and clinch the sixth seed. With each of Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson, Walker Kessler, Talen-Horton Tucker, Collin Sexton, and Rudy Gay listed as OUT tonight, the Lakers (who unlike the Denver Nuggets, have something to play for) should have an easy out.
While its somewhat disappointing the Jazz won’t take part in this years Playoff theatrics, this season has defied all expectations. Sure, the Jazz ended with a mediocre record, joining the likes of the Washington Wizards in the limbo of mid-to-late lottery draft boards. Sure, they failed to secure a top-four draft pick (unless they get ridiculously lucky during the lottery) and a shot at one of the most generational prospects in NBA history. But none of that really matters. They, almost accidentally, traded for an All-Star starter, signed a future perennial Coach of the Year, added two high-potential rookies, and developed a winning culture on a team which largely features NBA castaways. On top of all that, Danny Ainge and the Justin Zanik are playing monopoly with the league’s first-round picks for the next six years.
But I’d argue that, most importantly, the Jazz were a fun team to watch this year. The championship-or-bust mentality that dominates the NBA landscape today creates a negative viewing experience for many fans. Under this form of binary thought, unless you are rooting for a team truly contending for a title (which, on any given season, may be only three or four teams), your favorite organization is wasting its time. It generates the ugly race to the bottom that we’ve seen over the last month or so (capstoned by the Dallas Mavericks’ hilarious tank job against the Chicago Bulls) and punishes those stuck in the middle.
Yet this season, I had significantly more fun watching Utah play basketball than last year. During the 2021-22 campaign, each game felt like a chore to watch, regardless of the future Hall-of-Fame talent on the roster. But with objectively worse players, the effort-filled and chaos-based style of basketball this season’s Jazz team played with was much more enjoyable, regardless of the losses. According to NBA.com, the Jazz played in a staggering 51 clutch games, the third most in the league. That’s enjoyable to watch, particularly when compared to negative aura surrounding the “contending” Jazz roster of last year.
As such, I’m thankful that a ragtag team, through playing hard and staying positive, reminded us that basketball is meant to be fun. While it provides you with heartbreak, disappointment, and anger, at the end of the day, its entertainment that should bring a smile to your face. I had plenty of those this season.
Thank you for reading SLC Dunk this season. Stay tuned for NBA Draft content in the near future!
When: 1:30 PM MST
Where: Crypto.com Arena