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Let’s try and talk about some Jazz basketball today

Let’s reset, recover, and recenter after a tragic Sunday.

Dallas Mavericks v Utah Jazz Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Yesterday’s tragic news about Kobe Bryant really took it out of my sails. Tragedies like that tend to give us all the right perspective about life. What’s important in our lives gets audited by the universe’s cosmic scales and usually a lot of our goals, endeavors, and passions get reorganized as a result. I found myself just staring off a lot yesterday. Staring at my daughter, my wife, and my surroundings contemplating what this life means. I’m not normally a retrospective person. I live in the moment and am usually focused on the next fun exciting thing. Part of that is my personality and part of that is my ADHD. You would think that being the person here at SLC Dunk to write about returning to basketball would then be up my alley, but, honestly, I’m still shook.

I hate how this post even sounds from the onset. No one wants to here some random person completely isolated from a tragedy make this about them, but I kept on trying to put words to the whole event until Devin. (@dvnmstrs) asked the question what are you feeling?

Then it hit me. I felt mortal. That’s what tragedies do to people. They remind us that everything can be taken away from us at a moment’s notice and that tomorrow is neither promised nor guaranteed. It’s hard to get hype about a season, a game, or anything else when the value of right now has skyrocketed. But I will. Hobbies in this time are important. Passion is important. If we were given a timestamp of when we’d end this mortal coil we’d probably fill as much of our time before that date with the things that bring us happiness, joy, laughter, sorrow, and tears. Most of us want to feel.

In Hamlet’s To Be Or Not To Be speech there’s a line that always gets me. It’s when he becomes lucid of what it is to be human in the face of events that seem to take our ability to navigate our mortality away.

To die, to sleep.

To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub,

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause. There’s the respect

That makes calamity of so long life.

With that said, I will begin the task of giving us something to of which to dream and in which to believe. Let’s talk about Jazz basketball.

A few weeks ago I did a story about how the Jazz had been on an insane winning run and STILL found themselves in 6th place. On December 30th I wrote how the schedule was easing up for Utah, but they’d have to play perfect basketball AND have teams make some unforced errors in order for them to catch up.

Can Utah gain ground? Yes. Teams have injuries, missteps, and off nights. But it requires Utah to play great, consistent ball for the rest of the season. This is why pointing to strength of schedule when losses pile up early is somewhat of a weak excuse. The reason for that is other teams like the Clippers, Lakers, and Mavericks have all faced difficult schedules to start the season as well. Fans thinking the Jazz would rocket up the standings once the season eased up will be disappointed. They’ll rocket up the win column, but standings? They may not be able to keep up. Denver and Houston are the only teams who have difficult schedules that could trip them up and provide the opportunity for Utah. That requires Utah to win when they’re not favored, stay healthy, and continue to find ways to bolster their bench unit. They can do it, but like we’ve said the past two seasons, they have not done themselves any favors with their early season play.

Fast forward to now. There have been MANY teams that have had some own-goals and allowed Utah to leapfrog them. Utah now finds themselves in second place and 3.5 games behind the Lakers for first. I had previewed the next 10 games from Dec. 30 and here’s what teams that were ahead of Utah in the standings were predicted to do and what they ended up doing.

Next 10 Games

Upcoming LA Lakers Result LA Clippers Result Denver Nuggets Result Dallas Mavericks Result Houston Rockets Result Utah Jazz Result
Upcoming LA Lakers Result LA Clippers Result Denver Nuggets Result Dallas Mavericks Result Houston Rockets Result Utah Jazz Result
Game 1 Suns W @ Kings W @ Rockets L @ Thunder L Nuggets W Pistons W
Game 2 Pelicans W Pistons W @ Pacers W Nets W 76ers W @ Bulls W
Game 3 Pistons W Grizzlies L @ Wizards L Hornets L @ Hawks W @ Magic W
Game 4 Knicks W Knicks W @ Hawks W Bulls W @ Thunder L @ Pelicans W
Game 5 @ Mavericks W Warriors W @ Mavericks W Nuggets L Timberwolves W Knicks W
Game 6 @ Thunder W @ Nuggets L Cavaliers L Lakers L @ Grizzlies L Hornets W
Game 7 Cavaliers W Cavaliers W Clippers W 76ers W Trail Blazers L @ Wizards W
Game 8 Magic L Magic W Hornets W @ Warriors W Lakers L @ Nets W
Game 9 @ Rockets W @ Pelicans W @ Warriors W @ Kings W Thunder L @ Pelicans W
Game 10 @ Celtics L @ Mavericks W Pacers L @ Trail Blazers W Nuggets W Kings W
538 Projection 7-3 8-2 8-2 8-2 8-2 6-4 9-1 6-4 9-0-1 5-5 7-3 10-0
Estimated Record 33-10 34-9 31-13 31-13 31-11 29-13 30-12 27-14 32-11 27-16 27-15 30-12
538 Season Projection 59-23 62-20 58-24 57-25 54-28 53-29 53-29 50-32 55-27 53-29 51-31 55-27
Cleaning The Glass Prediction 58-24 59-23 55-27 55-27 53-29 49-33 59-23 56-26 52-30 51-31 47-35 56-26
Bold = Wins, Italics = Tie, Normal = Loss / Ties estimated as wins Via 538 Elo/Raptor Ratings

Out of those teams, Utah had the biggest jump—it helps when you go on a 10 game winning streak—and Denver, Dallas, and Houston had the most precipitous falls. While Utah is in striking distance of the top seed in the West, it seems far fetched to see them surpass the Los Angeles Lakers. For one, LA’s schedule goes to a cupcake level for the remainder of the season. If Utah does surpass them, it would probably be due to the Lakers resting guys to be ready for a long playoff run rather than losing momentum. Utah’s next 10 looks like this:

That’s a nightmare schedule. The Jazz’s only oasis games are against Portland—who they have historically struggled against—and the San Antonio Spurs—who they have also historically struggled against. If Utah comes out on the good side of most of those games, they completely deserve to be close to surpassing the Los Angeles Lakers. That’s what a championship caliber team does. Win consistently against strong competition.

The Lakers on the other hand only face 3 teams with a record of .500 or better (Nuggets, Clippers, and Rockets). Utah was able to get a statement win against Dallas on Saturday, but it required a lot to gut out that win. Utah is going to get 10 more games of that over their next 10. There is no reprieve in this stretch, only challenges.

Then there’s the additional factor. With Kobe’s passing, the Los Angeles Lakers will be playing with a purpose and for a cause. I don’t envy any team that has to go into LA and get a win right now. I don’t envy any team playing LA to get a win. A cupcake schedule plus a renewed inspiration for the season could be the right combination for the Lakers putting a lot of daylight in between them and the Jazz, Nuggets, Rockets, Mavericks, and Clippers.

Utah’s cupcake schedule since Dec 30th has allowed them to be up for consideration as one of the West’s best teams. The next 10 games will determine if they deserve that recognition and consideration.