For the Utah Jazz, this entire season has centered around one topic: fulfilling the dreams, promises, and potential they failed to bring to life in their loss to the Los Angeles Clippers during last year’s playoffs.
Every roster move, coaching decision, and regular season game has been a form of preparation for the post-season. But with only nine games until the NBA playoffs begin, the Jazz seem oddly unprepared.
In Utah’s fairness, we should recognize that they’ve battled injuries and other circumstances that have been out of their control all season. Injuries have prevented this team from playing cohesively for large swaths of time and contributed to their inability to mesh together. As a matter of fact, when all 5 of the regular starters play, the Jazz are 27-11, a winning rate of 71 percent. That should be a better predictive measure than simply looking at their current record of 45-28. But, in looking at the last two post-seasons, the Jazz have faced a variety of health issues. They have yet to face a real contender in the playoffs fully healthy, and I think it’s fair to question if they’ll be able to do so this year.
Generally speaking, I do my best to view this team objectively. When they Jazz get blown out and are missing a key starter, I try not to read into it. When they win a big game against a contender, I don’t take it as sign that they are future champions. As the great Ricky Rubio once said, “never too high, never too low.”
But for whatever reason, I find it difficult to feel confident about this team’s chances this post-season. Maybe it’s their inability to fight back into games where they are down big (currently 4-22 after trailing by double digits and 30th in the league in comebacks, per Mike Beuoy). After all, the playoffs are the one place where teams are certain to face some kind of adversity. Or maybe it’s the outstanding questions about their perimeter defense and bench depth. Equally likely, maybe it’s just that my own disappointment from last season has bled into my expectations this year. Ultimately, the playoffs are still relatively wide-open and Jazz only need a few good breaks to enable a run to The Finals.
Fortunately, these questions and concerns will be answered soon. They are an incredibly talented team and, at least from that perspective, won't be largely outmatched in any series. At the end of the day, it comes down to how willing they are to defend, play together, and not fold under pressure. The Utah Jazz’s fate lies within their own hands.