The NBA released their opening slate of national TV games yesterday afternoon, and the Utah Jazz found themselves off the list. This list included two games on Tuesday December 22nd, two games on December 23, and five games on Christmas December 25. With 18 slots available for a stint in the national spotlight, you would think the Jazz would have fallen into one of those places.
National TV for the season's first 3 days (presumably no games on Christmas Eve):— Ken Clayton (@k_clayt) December 2, 2020
Mavericks 2x pic.twitter.com/HfpQwhJ4Ja
The NBA went a different route this year, double-dipping with several of the same teams during the national TV games on opening week. If you were a Jazz fan before 2017, this is familiar territory for you. The Jazz rarely had any national TV games during the season, let alone during opening week and Christmas. Donovan Mitchell almost single-handedly changed that, making the Jazz one of the more exciting teams to watch since his arrival years ago. Since Spida arrived, the Jazz have gotten much more national exposure, including having national spotlight games during opening week during each of the last two seasons, and a Christmas game two seasons ago. It does feel a little strange to not see the Jazz playing in one of this big games during opening week, especially with their being 18 opportunities.
This isn’t the first instance of decreased respect for the Jazz this offseason. It’s seemed like a common thing lately to see a national NBA writer have the Jazz in the “third tier” of the West with them making the 7th or 8th seed. Some of them have the Jazz missing the playoffs altogether. Vegas has the Jazz’s over/under for wins set at 41.5, which is good for 5th best in the West behind Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets and Mavs. Their championship odds however, have them tied for 7th in the West. Last season the Jazz were in the top 8 in the NBA in both of those betting metrics before the season tipped off.
The strange thing about this noticeable change in national perspective is that the Jazz will definitely be better this season than last. Two of their biggest weaknesses in the playoff series against the Nuggets (one that they had a double-digit lead up 3-1 and definitely should have won) was backup big man and scoring outside of Donovan Mitchell. Adding Derrick Favors and drafting Udoka Azubuike resolved the depth of the C position, and one can not underestimate how much getting Bojan Bogdanovic back will help the Jazz.
We're basically looking at the 2017 Jazz again, swapping Hill for Conley, Hayward for Bogdanovic, and adding a kid that just averaged 40 ppg in a playoff series— Riley Gisseman (@rgiss11) November 21, 2020
Add another year of cohesion with Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson, and another off-season development of Spida, and this team could be really special this season. It seems like the Suns have become the new darling of the Western Conference after adding a 35-year old Chris Paul. After what CP3 did to the Thunder last season, that added respect is probably warranted, but at somepoint Chris Paul is going to slow down, unless he’s drinking from that same fountain that LeBron has. This resurgence from the Suns, as well as Steph Curry and the Warriors coming back (even without Klay Thompson), Blazers getting healthy, etc; the West is going to be a blood bath just like it always is. But the Jazz have turned into a perennial playoff team making the playoffs four years in a row under Quin Snyder, advancing to the second round in two of those years.
The Jazz are off the national radar this season, and that’s okay. For me personally, I think I enjoy the “underdog” role way more than the “darling”. After having a seemingly incredible off-season last year, expectations were through the roof for the 2019-2020 season. The Jazz became a popular pick for the Western Conference finals, and that became the expectation for many Jazz fans. Obviously the season and playoffs went very different than that. This year, with the help of this decreased exposure, expectations are different for this Jazz team as a whole. I don’t think anyone has the mindset of “WCF or Bust” kindof like a lot of people did last season. No one is doubting that the Jazz will be a good team, but there are a lot of good teams in the NBA this season, especially in the western conference. This relaxed mindset regarding expectations should make things much easier for Jazz fans this season. I feel like I write about expectations before every season, but it’s because they affect so much how a fanbase feels watching their team play. We’ll see if the Jazz can prove the schedule-makers and national NBA writers wrong, and be one of the best teams in the league this season.