Believe it or not, the NBA Playoffs are just 51 days away. Seems like it could be just yesterday or 10 years ago that we watched the Jazz blow a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets in the NBA bubble last summer. The pandemic has turned time into a strange warp where everything seems like it was forever ago, but very recent at the same time. Putting that all as much behind us as we can, the NBA Playoffs are back on May 22, and that is an awesome thing.
Looking at the playoff picture for the Utah Jazz, things are a little complicated. Right now, the Jazz have a three game lead on the #1 seed in the Western Conference. Although the Jazz are on a 7-game winning streak, the Suns aren’t letting them create any more space on that lead, also on a 4-game winning streak and winning 8 of their last 10 games. With the recent injuries and based off the way the Lakers and Clippers have been playing, it seems very likely that it will be between the Jazz and Suns for the top seed in the West. That’s about all that is certain right now in the Western Conference playoff picture.
Here are the standings of spots 1-11 (Rockets and Wolves are all but eliminated) through last night’s games.
Trying to figure out who the Jazz would face in the first round is a cluster right now, even as the one seed or the two seed. Seeds 7-13 are separate by a handful of games, and the standings are changing up on a nightly basis. Which team out of the Mavericks, Spurs, Warriors would you rather face. All of these teams are solid teams, but facing Steph Curry and the Warriors is pretty spooky. What’s more interesting though, and probably more important, is who they would face in the second round assuming they can take care of business in the first. If the season ended today, the Jazz would play the winner of the Lakers and Nuggets in the second round. In a perfect world, you would probably want to avoid LeBron, AD and the defending Lakers as long as possible in the playoffs. As a #1 seed, it doesn’t feel very rewarding to be playing them in the second round. But with the injuries to LeBron and Anthony Davis, the Lakers have made it pretty clear that they are focusing less on the regular season, and just working to get everyone healthy for the playoffs, and you can’t really blame them. This means they probably aren’t going to make a run at the 1 or 2 seed, and depending on how long LeBron is out, might even fall a bit deeper in the standings.
Looking at 538’s NBA projections, the Jazz are on track to finish as the one seed with a record of 55-17, six games ahead of the Suns. According to their projections, the Jazz would play the Warriors in round one, and the winner of Nuggets-Lakers in round two.
There are enough good teams in the West however, that it doesn’t really matter where you end up. To win a playoff series in the Western Conference, you are going to have to beat a good team. There reaches a certain point among all of the madness trying to line up playoff paths, that you just simply have to be a great team and beat other great teams. Whether it’s in the second round, Western Conference Finals, or the NBA Finals, the Jazz are going to have to beat some really good teams with some Hall of Fame players. That’s just how it’s gonna be.
A lot of playoff positioning is out of your own personal control, and depends on the teams around you. Something that the Jazz can control right now, is continuing to win games. It would be HUGE for the Jazz to end the season as the #1 seed, and the best record in the NBA. That would mean the entire playoffs, including NBA Finals would run through Salt Lake City, where the Jazz are 20-2 on the season, and a 20-game winning streak resides. Playoff Viv is a different beast, and it might be close to full strength come May depending on local COVID-19 guidelines. Either way, the Jazz have proven this season that playing at home is a huge advantage. If they can secure home-court throughout the playoffs, it might be the easiest path to a Championship. Don’t lose a game at home, and you win an NBA Title. Seems pretty simple right?