Last night was probably, up to this point in time, the biggest game of the 2020-21 NBA season for the Jazz. Top two teams in the conference with just games separating them, ESPN primetime, Donovan Mitchell vs. Devin Booker, lots of fan trash talk, etc. It was a big game. It would have been great to win that game last night, but unfortunately it just didn’t happen. The Jazz just couldn’t put together a complete game, and couldn’t get enough from some of their key players, despite 41 points and a crazy clutch game-tying three from Donovan Mitchell that sent the game into overtime.
After last night’s loss, it might be easy for some to become frustrated with this team. Last night was an opportunity to show a lot of people the type of team the Jazz are. It was a big matchup with another top team in the league, and the Jazz really just didn’t come out and play like a true contender. This loss was the second in row, after a crazy fluky loss against the Mavericks on Monday night. These losses are frustrating, especially given the way the Jazz played in them, but there is still just not enough reason to really worry about this Jazz team. They’ve shown their ability to be a really great team at points in this season, and it shows with their record, which is still the best in the NBA. After last night’s loss, their record against teams above .500 fell to 18-9, which is still pretty dang good. In fact, 18 wins against winning teams is still the third most in the league, behind the Brooklyn Nets and the Phoenix Suns. There is this weird narrative going around that the Jazz can’t beat good teams, and that’s just not true. Sure, they aren’t beating them at the same rate they beat bad teams, but no one does. The 76ers, Bucks, Clippers, Nuggets and Lakers all have a worse record against .500+ teams this year than the Jazz do. Despite what they might say on Twitter, the Jazz have beat a lot of good teams this season.
In terms of keeping the best record in the league and the #1 seed in the West, the outlook is still looking great even after last night’s loss. Right now only a game and a half separate the Jazz and Suns for the 1 seed, but 538 still projects a four-game lead for the Jazz by the end of the season. According to current records, the Jazz have the easiest remaining schedule among all NBA teams, with an average opponent winning percentage of .457. The Suns have the 6th most difficult at .525. The Jazz have 21 games remaining, with 12 of them at home. They start a five-game home stand tonight against the Blazers, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
This whole season, throughout all of the success the Jazz have had as the best team in the league, I’ve still just wondered if they are good enough to beat a great team in a playoff series. It’s fun and nice and everything to win game during the regular season, get All-Star appearances, weekly awards, etc. But winning in the playoffs is really what this team will be judged upon, not a Wednesday night game against the Phoenix Suns. Unless the Jazz start showing deeper, more consistent issues and dropping more games that they shouldn’t, there’s just no reason to think that they aren’t the really good team they’ve been all year. Much of this team’s story will be told about how they perform in the playoffs, and as long as everyone stays healthy, they still have everything under control to try and make a deep run and steal that NBA Championship.