The Utah Jazz got a freebie last night, when they got into the NBA Playoffs while idle. They have a berth, which is great. But it’s still up to them to earn their seed and potentially home court in the first round. So how are they going to finish this season? There are now 9 games left. Is there anything we can guess about their finish from previous Jazz seasons? Dig in, folks!
Okay, so things didn’t start off great this season for the Last 10 (L10) Utah Jazz games of the regular season. They dropped a game, on the road, against a playoff team. Utah went on a run, but ran out of gas. Not good. Also not good? The Jazz have a tough finishing schedule. The Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs are the top two teams in the conference and league this season. And three of the L10 games are against them, two of them on the road. So that’s bad. Also bad? One of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference, the Washington Wizards, are also on the schedule. They were spanked by the Jazz in front of their home fans last month and probably haven’t forgotten. So the Los Angeles Clippers, three games against GSW/SAS, and the Wizards are bad. That’s five tough games. That was expected.
What wasn’t expected, in my opinion, was the DeMarcus Cousins trade from the Sacramento Kings to the New Orleans Pelicans. Post trade the Jazz had NOP and SAS on the schedule four times. And before the trade it would have been four games against teams that had one good player but were otherwise likely to be in the tank at this part of the season. Instead we have a motivated Pelicans trying to make the playoffs (currently 11th in the West), and a motivated Kings team (currently 13th in the West) trying to prove that they are better off without Boogie. New Orleans is 6-4 in their L10, while Sacramento is 3-7. So the bottom line is that while both teams are trying, one of them is winning. Before the trade both were losing. So that makes the Jazz L10 a little harder.
The other problem here, in my mind, is the Portland Trail Blazers. I would have loved it if they were 12th or something at this point in time because they would have been in the tank. Instead they are, at this writing, 8th in the Western Conference. They’ll end up giving the Jazz no quarter in April as a result - I expected them to be out of it by April. Unlucky me. So that’s another four games of the L10 that should have been pieces of cake that are now harder because POR, NOP, and SAC all give a damn right now.
The remaining game is the one at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves (currently 12th). This should be a win. It better be one, looking at the finishing schedule.
So the schedule for the L10 is five tough games, four games that should have been easy but will not be, and one easy game. Boo-hoo, right? Well, this Utah Jazz squad has proven to be one that wins games it should not, and loses games it shouldn’t. It also wins game it should, and loses games it should. Basically, anything is possible in 2016-2017.
But is there any historical pattern for the Jazz? I had to find it out. So I did.
The Last 20 years of the Utah Jazz L10
Looking at the last two decades should be a large enough sample size to figure out if there is a patter at all, right?
1996-1997 to 2000-2001: 33-17 (66.00%)
- 1996-97: This team finished the season strong and rolled into the playoffs winning five straight games before their first loss. They would end up dispatching the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, and Houston Rockets before facing the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals.
- 1997-98: This team didn’t finish the season quite as strong, but they were still taking care of business. This Jazz squad didn’t start getting going in the playoffs until the later rounds. In fact, they lost the first game, at home against the Rockets. They took out the San Antonio Spurs in five, and then swept the Los Angeles Lakers to claim their second straight Western Conference crown. Including the Game 1 OT win at home against the Chicago Bulls this Jazz team would end up winning seven straight playoff games.
- 1998-99: In ‘99 this was a lockout shortened 50 game season (so it’s not Game 73 to 82, but game 40 to 50 represented here). The Jazz were 50/50 here in the lead-up to the Playoffs. Given the #2 seed they ended up getting some tough draws, beating the Sacramento Kings in five, and then losing to the Portland Trail Blazers in six.
- 1999-00: This team went 6-4 in their L10, and again got to the second round only to fall to the Portland Trail Blazers in six games as well. Jeff Hornacek would retire after the season. John Stockton and Karl Malone would never take the Utah Jazz out of the first round without him.
- 2000-01: Utah got a 5-5 split here, but two of those games were against the Eastern Conference. Does that even count? Worse still? The Jazz split those games too!
The NBA Finals et Denouement era Utah Jazz teams went 33-17 in their respective L10 Games, for a winning rate of 66.00%. Utah went 13-12 outside of the Delta Center, for those who care.
2001-2002 to 2005-2006: 24-26 (48.00%)
- 2001-02: This wasn’t a great finish, and the team got bounced in the first round, 1-3.
- 2002-03: Same 4-6 finish in the L10, and same first round exit - this time 1-4.
- 2003-04: Shouldn’t Jerry Sloan have gotten CoY for going 42-40, or going 5-5 here? This team missed the playoffs. But just barely.
- 2004-05: Another 4-6 finish but injuries killed this team (Andrei Kirilenko missed 61 games and Carlos Boozer missed 51). But it was a transition year after LHM opened up the bank fault to pay a few guys.
- 2005-06: Utah barely missed the playoffs again, losing out to Denver. But a 7-3 finish is tied for 3rd best in the last 20 seasons.
This team wasn’t good until Deron Williams came aboard. But even in the “not good” years this team still finished around .500 in their L10. The 24-26 mark is commendable, but not remarkable.
2006-2007 to 2010-2011: 23-27 (46.00%)
- 2006-07: This Jazz team finished the season 4-6, but ended up winning two playoff rounds and 9 games in the post season. Tremendous heart on this team.
- 2007-08: This 54 win team finished 7-3 (again, tied for 3rd best finish in the last 20) and should have probably gone to the WCF again if they didn’t run into the Lakers in the second round.
- 2008-09: Injuries killed this team, their L10 finish, and their playoff run. A sad first round exit to the Lakers.
- 2009-10: Ditto, but it was a second round exit. And a third straight year the Lakers bounced the Jazz.
- 2010-11: The franchise I love blew up this year.
Four playoff trips and one Hall of Fame head coaches retirement later (we still miss you every day Jerry Sloan), and you have a team that was in almost constant #PlayoffPush mode . . . a team that wasn’t able to really finish strong. Injuries are a problem for all teams, but seems like those Deron Williams / Carlos Boozer / Mehmet Okur / Andrei Kirilenko teams were just snake-bit.
2011-2012 to 2015-2016: 28-22 (56.00%)
- 2011-12: This was a lockout shortened 66 game season (so it’s not games 73 to 82, but instead games 57 to 66), and the Jazz really killed it down the stretch. Over the last two months of the season they went from 12th to 8th in the West. Finishing the season with five wins in a row, against playoff teams, that’s awesome. There were a few OT games in that stretch as well. Sadly, they were swept in the first round by the Spurs.
- 2012-13: Another commendable 7-3 finish (tied for 3rd best) here for a team that won 43 games. No playoffs this time around, but doubling down on #Vets really showed that you could win a bunch of games but be stuck in the doldrums.
- 2013-14: Corbin coaching limit or tank job? We’ll probably never find out.
- 2014-15: This is the 5th team to finish with a 7-3 run in their L10 in the last 20 seasons; so 25% finish a 7-3 or better. This was a fun team to watch with Rudy Gobert, Dante Exum, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors . . . lovely. At times. Sometimes. Okay, maybe a 38 win team wasn’t always fun to watch, but with how this team played (remember the “Three Ds?”) it was more fun to watch than a 43 win team that didn’t focus on that.
- 2015-16: If this team played better down the stretch they would have been in the playoffs last year. A 5-5 finish wasn’t good enough.
But all in all, for this five year stretch the Jazz won 56% of their L10 games. I don’t think we would have guessed that for this period of time in Jazz history.
If you put it all together the Utah Jazz go . . . 108-92 in their L10 games of the season. That’s a 54.00% success rate, and one that’s below the Jazz’s 2016-2017 season rate of 60.27%. (Crap, I should have calculated the Jazz 20 year W/L record. Hold on...) From 1996-1997 to 2015-2016 the Utah Jazz have gone 898-694 in the regular season, and that’s a winning percentage of 56.41%.
- 1996-1997 to 2015-2016: 56.41% for season, 54.00% in L10
- 2016-2017: 60.27% for season, L10 TBD
So if the Jazz are fewer than 5% lower than normal that’s not the end of the world. (E.g. a 55% win percentage puts the Jazz at 5.5 wins and 4.5 losses in the L10) But I don’t think simple maths solves this problem because these generalizations don’t work against the specific teams Utah will face.
The Last 20 years of the Utah Jazz L10 - By Opponent
- San Antonio Spurs (20 games in 20 seasons): Seriously? Screw these guys. Also, wow. Oh and eight on the road.
- Portland Trail Blazers (19/20): Two more games against a team that usually takes the L in the L10. I’m fine with this. Utah is 6-3 in Utah and 5-3 outside. That’s something to be happy about, especially after the Spurs drubbing.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (18/20): So, the Jazz are better against POR than they are against MIN to finish the season? That’s something to worry about.
- Golden State Warriors (17/20): So, the Jazz are better against GSW than they are against MIN to finish the season? Maybe this entire exercise was a pointless waste of time for Amar. Also, man, 10 road games against this squad in the L10 for the last 20 seasons? That’s a pretty high frequency, eh NBA Schedule makers?
- Dallas Mavericks (15/20): Being on the wrong side of a 2 to 1 advantage sucks. They’ve just been so clutch during the Dirk era. Glad we don’t face him again this year.
So six of the L10 games are against these five teams. The SAS data doesn’t give UTA much of a fighting chance; however, the POR, MIN, and GSW info should be favorable. In the last 5 games of the L10 games of the last 20 seasons, UTA is 4-1 vs POR, 5-0 vs MIN, and 3-2 vs GSW. Trends, right? Gotta trust them sometime.
- Denver Nuggets (14/20): Utah is okay here, holding their own at home. They are on a two game win-streak, but I wouldn’t necessarily say Utah is at some advantage.
- Los Angeles Clippers (14/20): 11 and 3 is good, right? It probably says more about the Clippers near-yearly futility over the last century. They do have a two game win-streak, including the Jazz’ very most recent game of the 2016-2017 season.
- Phoenix Suns (14/20): This match-up has been 50/50 over the years. Utah has actually been better on the road against the Suns than at home. Crazy, right?
- Houston Rockets (13/20): This is another pretty dominant experience, 10-3 in all of the L10 qualified games over the last 20 seasons is pretty nice. I still hold the Rockets in my hatred folder at around the same rank of that of that Kobe dude.
- Los Angeles Lakers (13/20): Speaking of that guy, let’s take a look at his team: the Lakers have trucked the Jazz in the last part of the season over the last 20 seasons. For reals. What’s worse than a 3-10 record? I’ll tell you what. It’s the 1-7 @LAL record. That’s not putting up a fight at all. Not even last season. Awful.
Unlike the previous group where there are 6 remaining games against the L10 schedule, this section has no future games, you know -- except for potential playoff Match-ups against LAC or HOU.
- New Orleans Pelicans / Hornets (13/20): One more game here, but so far it’s been pretty much ‘All That Jazz’ with Utah being 3-1 at home and 6-2 on the road. This upcoming game better be a win.
- Sacramento Kings (13/20): You’d figure that these two teams would have played more than just 13 times leading up to the playoffs, but I guess their rivalry wasn’t that important over the years. The Jazz are only 2-3 on the road, and have one more game coming up in their gym this season.
- Seattle Supersonics / Oklahoma City Thunder (8/20): Actually, you’d think SEA vs UTA would have been scheduled more than just four times, right? Wow. The Jazz aren’t so hot against this team, especially not during that KD / Russ era - but they did win the last game (two seasons ago).
- Vancouver / Memphis Grizzlies (6/20): A 3-3 record against this team is a little low on the wins for my tastes.
- Eastern Conference (13/20): Utah is 7-5 against the East in the last three weeks of the NBA season. (Which that was the case in the NBA Finals, alas it’s only 4-8.) Utah is on the winning side over the last 20 years, over the last 5 games, and at home. The Wizards game is going to be tough. We need all of the probability luck we can get!
There isn’t much to say here. The Kings and Pelicans should have been two bad teams tanking. They aren’t this year. Still, the Jazz should handle them both. Hopefully.
Put it all together, Amar
So using the specifics of the last 20 years to battle the problem of this season we could end up with this:
- @ Clippers: Loss (this game already happened), historically this should have been a win but LAC is good now. And they have had UTA’s number over the last few seasons as well.
- vs Pelicans: Win, you never know if Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are going to play in the same game and Boogie is questionable for tonight. They will be playing their second game of a back to back, and their third game in four nights as their last game of their road trip. This really has to be a win.
- @ Kings: Win, the Kangz can do anything. But they should lose. By the historical data says they should win, but a big part of that history was those Vlade playing years - not these Vlade GMing years. Recent history says this should be for UTA to take.
- vs Wizards: Loss, mainly because they have revenge on their minds. Yes, UTA beat them in WAS. And yes, WAS is on a long road trip where they will play CLE, LAL, LAC, UTA, and GSW. And yes, the UTA game is the third game in four nights for WAS and it is the middle game between LAC and GSW (two measuring stick games for the East). John Wall is tough. Bradley Beal is tough. Both did not have their best games last time around.
- @ Spurs: Loss, because duh. UTA is 0-8 @SAS over the last 20 years.
- vs Trail Blazers: Win, because the MIN/POR make-up game really screws both of those teams. I wrote about it in detail here; but the short story here is that a pretty fair POR @ UTA game is now the 2nd night of a B2B for POR and the 3rd game in 4.
- vs Timberwolves: Win, if UTA loses this game I will eat my hat.
- @ Trail Blazers: Win, because I am a homer. UTA is on the second night of a B2B, but it’s MIN at the first game. Second, POR is coming off of two B2B 3 games in 4 sets. It will be POR’s 5th game in 8 nights at this stage, while UTA had two nights off before the MIN game. UTA is winning 2 of every 3 games against POR in the L10 over the last 20 years. They are 4-1 in their last 5 in this situation. Gotta get it done.
- @ Warriors: Loss, just because GSW against UTA is not a good match-up right now. This is a potential “rest” game for GSW, but I think they win regardless.
- vs Spurs: Win, this is fan appreciation night and the last game before the playoffs start. Gregg Popovich will be resting some of his guys for sure (Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker for sure, Kawhi Leonard probably on a minutes restriction). Utah will be fighting for something still. I don’t think HOU catches up to SAS or GSW for this game to matter to them.
So Utah deals with a terrible ending schedule, but finishes 6-4. And that resolves to a 50-32 season. Damn, I’m okay with that with all the injuries they had faced. Of course, this is the “glass half full” opinion here. If the Jazz do a bad job and Jazz all over themselves it could be a much worse finish. But let’s stay positive here.