Since moving about 45 minutes outside of Salt Lake City I’ve had more time to catch up on different NBA podcasts. Most of these podcasts, after spending about 80% of their time talking about the lottery-bound Los Angeles Lakers and Lebron James, will occasionally mention other teams in the NBA. In those segments, that will sometimes last a good :45 seconds, they dismiss the Jazz quickly.
Those people are going to be surprised this postseason. Again.
Now, there is some validity to their opinions about Utah from the first half of the Jazz season. The team a lot of people predicted to finish the season as high as 2nd in the Western Conference took longer than expected to meet those expectations.
The main reason was the difficulty of the schedule. Just like last season, Utah had an almost suspiciously difficult schedule, especially in December. But the difficulty of the season also masked some deficiencies on the team. As difficult as the schedule was, the Jazz dropped some games they shouldn’t have. Remember when the Jazz lost to the Mavericks 118 - 68? That 50-point loss seems like an entire season ago.
And so a lot of the nationals wrote off the Jazz. But it was too early. Since the All-Star Break the Jazz are 9-4 with a couple disappointing losses in New Orleans and Memphis and a double overtime heartbreaker to the Thunder.
There’s only 12 games left but in those 12 games the Jazz only face two opponents where they might not be favored, the Denver Nuggets and at the Los Angeles Clippers. Let’s say they drop those two games and win the rest. That means the Jazz will go into the playoffs winning 19 of their last 25 games.
It’s crazy how similar this is to last season’s rise.
Although this time the Jazz know what to expect in the offseason. They’ll go into the playoffs knowing what it takes to win and they’ll know they belong there.
Last year they were riding high off of one of the biggest turnarounds in NBA history and played as if they had nothing to lose. They shocked everyone but themselves when they beat the Thunder behind the incredible rise of Donovan Mitchell (along with a few sprinkles of Carmelo Anthony). The nationals were shocked at the Jazz advancing, but Jazz fans had seen Mitchell do those things time and time again in the regular season.
Yet even having seen the Jazz beat the Thunder last season, most nationals still don’t give the Jazz a chance in the playoffs. Just like the Jazz are repeating a post All-Star rise, they’ll repeat their first round victory again this offseason and shock the national media.
The main storyline to begin this season was continuity. You couldn’t go a day without hearing those words online, on the radio or on TV. That storyline quickly fizzled out when the Jazz stumbled. Now, that continuity may finally pay off.
All the rookies from last year have playoff victories, and losses, under their belt. Having faced Playoff P and a ferocious Russell Westbrook, the young Jazz players won’t be cutting their teeth anymore. They also have Kyle Korver who brings a world of playoff experience, as well as a pretty good jump shot.
The Jazz also have a playoff friendly style. Some teams during the regular season try to speed things up to maximize the talent of their players while masking some of their deficiencies. During most games, the Jazz are happy to play a slower paced game because it plays to their defensive strengths. Half-court possessions facing Rudy Gobert are like root canals for opposing offenses.
On top of having a defense suited for slow possessions, the Jazz also have a system offense designed to score in the halfcourt. That system, that sometimes gets frustrating in the regular season because it seems mechanical at times, will pay off in the playoffs because it will manufacture buckets for the Jazz. A sped up, open floor offense doesn’t always work in the playoffs. Just ask the Thunder.
And even with a machine-like offense, there will be times opposing teams will keep it close and slow it down to a crawl at the end of games. That’s when you need a bucket getter.
His name is Donovan Mitchell.
It’s a formula that has proven successful already and there’s no reason it won’t work again.
When the nationals are acting shocked, Jazz fans won’t be.
Although this could all change if Utah plays Golden State in the first round.