The Utah Jazz (21-13) are currently the fourth best team in the Western Conference. That means a few things.
- The team is on track to make the NBA Playoffs for the first time since Josh Howard was starting over Gordon Hayward
- The team is going to have a chance to fight for home-court in the first round of said NBA Playoffs
- The team is doing all of this while having been absolutely ravaged by injuries during October, November, and December
The other thing that it means is that people who would rather focus on teams led by bigger stars or in bigger cities are unfortunately going to be forced to watch our slow paced, grind it out defense team — or not, you know, it’s never stopped National writers to opine about our Jazz without actually watching our Jazz before.
Most of the people live in the Eastern half of the nation. Most TV program schedules are adjusted to reflect this, and what makes it as ‘news’ usually happens over there more than elsewhere. If you can win out East with more eyes watching, and fingers writing, it means more than collecting infinite wins against the Phoenix Suns or Dallas Mavericks.
Earlier this season the Utah Jazz went out East and took names. Their 4-1 trip included wins against the New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic, and Miami Heat. Their lone loss was to the Charlotte Hornets, a poorly finished and officiated game that resulted in a 104-98 loss. Utah could have gone 5-0 there. Which is impressive because it was an East trip with two games that were the second night of a back to back, two games that were the third game in four nights, and one game that was the fifth game in seven nights. Oh yeah, and the team was injured back then.
The Jazz have a chance to go 5-0 this time around, against tougher competition, with the same rest situation (Five in Seven) — but with added health. It’s a more true test of what this team could be capable of. And if the team goes 4-1 on this trip everyone is really going to have to #TakeNote.
It’s not just Eastern Conference teams this time around (but geographically they should be). The Memphis Grizzlies are tough, and directly in competition with Utah for a middle West playoff seed. Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Chandler Parsons, Vince Carter, Tony Allen, and company are the original grit and grind team. And they’ll get a tired, jet-lagged Jazz team on the end of their road trip. That’s a schedule loss, especially because it’s a team flying EAST in Winter over the midwest (expect snow) to get back to Memphis.
But that’s the end of the trip, what about the first three games? These games will set the tone for the team on this trip. The Brooklyn Nets are bad, and the team could be looking PAST them at this point. But that was the fear back in November when the team went to see Philly. The Nets aren’t very good — but they still have some talent like Brook Lopez, Jeremy Lin, Bojan Bogdanovic, uh, Trevor Booker? Okay, their talent is pretty limited. And Lin isn’t going to play today, and Joe Harris probably will not either. This has to be a win. Start the trip off strong, Jazz.
Game 2 is the next night, against the Boston Celtics. Brad Stevens club is disciplined and looking to make some noise in the East playoffs. Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley are legit reasons why the Celtics are winning; Thomas should be an All-Star. He just dropped 52 a few nights ago, if Utah is guardless imagine how much he could score? Their bigmen are not jokes, as they re-loaded this offseason to get Al Horford and Amir Johnson. They join formidable bench players in Jonas Jerebko, Kelly Olynyk, and Tyler Zeller. If they go small, and they could if they wanted to, Jae Crowder can move over from the three as well. Bradley has an illness right now, which means Marcus Smart, another tenacious defender, gets to play more. Boston is tough. And if Utah can win this game then the sky is the limit. It’s more likely that Utah drops this one. You know, even though the Jazz have a better record than them. But whatever.
Game 3 is going to be watched by millions of people all over the world, mainly because the Jazz and Raptors seem to have a crazy esoteric non-North American following. The Raptors held off a Dwyane Wade led Miami Heat in seven games, and took the eventual champions, a LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers, to seven games. Making the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in franchise history is something. Right now, the 2015s, is the Raptors Golden era — similar to the Jazz 1995s. Are they going to make two NBA Finals in a row? Maybe not. Can they make the Conference Finals five times in seven seasons? Likely if they can keep Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas around. T-Dot is deep all over. We should know, they came into our gym and beat us a few nights ago. #UTAatBOS is a winnable game. I don’t know if #UTAatTOR is.
If the Jazz go 3-0 in the first three games then look out. If the team goes 1-2 then this is a must-win. The pesky Timberwolves have a collection of future talent. Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and others are going to cause head-aches for years. (Even if they aren’t all on this team anymore, in years.) And the Jazz have lost to them in previous seasons when they should not have. Furthermore, the Jazz play ‘down’ to their competition. But this game really needs to be one where the Jazz focus up to finish strong. This team shouldn’t be this bad. Ricky Rubio, Gorgui Dieng, heck Jordan Hill? This team is filled with Jazz killers. Of course, they should fear us, and not the other way around. Somehow none of their guys are injured. Wolves are tougher when they are in their pack. But this really should be a Jazz win. It is on paper.
And this brings us back to Memphis. If the Jazz poop their beds out East, if this finish the five game trip with just ONE win . . . if they win this one I think that’s all that matters. Making noise out East is great for headlines. Taking out Memphis and taking the lead in the season series 2-1 (with one more game in Utah to settle the score) is the more important thing.