Wow. The Utah Jazz had chances to beat the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers -- but ended up losing both of those games. There are a few take-aways here, the first is, well, a) maybe we're just not a very well constructed team right now? I think this is the larger context with which to judge what has happened on the court this season. Particularly because our General Manager, Dennis Lindsey, made moves last off-season to maintain flexibility to THIS off-season. He didn't make 'basketball moves' to make the team better. And as a result, the results we see during games reflects this. The second idea, b) is that perhaps there was some chicanery involved. I don't know how likely that is. You know our guys like Trey Burke and Gordon Hayward never want to lose, ever. But in two consecutive games we've had the team fall apart in the final quarter (while being mostly rested), falling at the hands of a hot shooting guard -- first by Randy Foye, and last night by Nick Young.
Do we accept that these are normal losses, and that guys will just end up making shots beyond their normative shooting percentages? Or was there a fundamental decision to 'stand down', or worse, that at our best we still couldn't compete?
These two games seem like outliers to me, particularly in how they were lost. There were some similarities, particularly the inability to defend the three, especially in transition, but there was a whole bunch of 'random data' involved as well. I think our Utah Jazz team played well in both games at parts. But when Nick Young is hitting a three pointer from 29 feet, with two guys on him, then you just have to recognize that what's happening here is more than just the team being bad, or the players going easy . . . it's just something outside the normal range of what to expect.
In a way, these two games where just "one of those games", just one after another. The Jazz are better than the full product they have displayed on the court. And I think this is something most fans can agree with.
The "good" news is that this loss to the Lakers makes life a teensy bit more easy for the team heading into the NBA Draft lotto. Yesterday, ESPN's Chad Ford wrote about the "Tank Rank". It is, predictably, an ESPN In$ider article, so I'm not going to go too deeply into what it said. But it did break down the 10 worst teams right now, where they are right now, what the idea of this team was in the pre-season, and what they will end up doing over the last few games. The Jazz are ranked behind the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Orlando Magic -- which is a 'duh' at this stage. But unlike those teams were are categorized as 'tanking' the Jazz are listed as 'rebuilding'. I think that is a fair assessment. After all, this is a franchise that HAS actual building blocks.
We just don't know if these are corner pieces, central pieces, foundational pieces, supporting pieces, or the capstone.
"The Jazz were tough to characterize coming into the season. We knew they'd be worse than last season -- they let free-agent starters Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Mo Williams go and didn't get much in return. However, those decisions weren't all about getting a high pick in this year's draft. The Jazz felt their young big men -- Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter -- were ready to move into the starting lineup.
"The result has been a team with plenty of young talent, but one that couldn't keep up in a tough Western Conference most nights. Still, the season has been a success. The Jazz have gotten tons of valuable experience for their young players, giving them one of the better young cores in the league."
This is a very accurate representation of our season, do you agree?
If you fish around on their site more you see that right now the Jazz are ranked #29 in the Hollinger Power Rankings, the only worse team being Philly. It is hard to argue that the 2013-2014 Utah Jazz were a good team, a good 'on court product', or something that really made people jump for joy.
Still, I can't help feeling bad for these guys, and I see only one more game on the schedule -- and that makes me sad. Sure, I'm critical of making persistent mistakes; but I love the Utah Jazz, and basketball is a huge part of my life. It's going to be a long summer without them.
I guess getting a high draft pick will make this season worth it, though.
The opposite of putting all our eggs in the "hope we get a good draft pick" basket is fighting down the stretch. The Memphis Grizzlies clinched the last Western Conference playoff spot by beating the Phoenix Suns in Phoenix last night. I'm not going to belabor this point here, but Phoenix is another outlier. Countless people counted them out in the preseason (myself among them), and continued to count them out during the season. They fought on all season long even after Eric Bledsoe got hurt -- and it took till Game 81 of 82 to finally shut them down.
They lost 97-91, the majority of that loss came in a first quarter that had the Grizzlies up by 10 after one. But still. Wow. I felt like Phoenix would be worried about ping pong balls this season. Instead they almost went to the playoffs. They almost equaled our BEST season in recent memory in the FIRST season of Jeff Hornacek as head coach.
Our brothers at Bright Side of the Sun wrote about some hardware. Specifically -- "Can Jeff Hornacek still win coach of the year if the Suns miss the playoffs?" BSOTS writer Jim Coughenour ( explains:
This article could just as easily be about how the Suns falling just short of the playoffs might affect their players chances of winning Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year awards or, in Goran Dragic's case, an All-NBA selection (or whether he finishes second or third team). I actually pondered over agglutinating all of these topics into one article, but in the end my
blatant lazinesshectic schedule swayed my decision to focus on the coaching award. If my workload was just a little lighter perhaps I'd be writing a more involved piece that included those other subjects.
Cause and effect.
I think it would be apocryphal logic to assume that the Suns making or missing the playoffs won't influence the sportswriters who vote on the award. With several other deserving candidates populating the landscape it may just be a few votes that swing the outcome. Perhaps faltering down the stretch sullies the team's feel good story in the eyes of some and the team morphs into "the little engine that couldn't."
While it seems like the national media finally caught on that something special was sprouting out of the sweltering Sonoran Desert, every time I hear someone say Horna "check" on a show or game that is nationally televised it makes me skeptical that person is doing a critical examination of Jeff's qualifications...
We here you, as Utah Jazz fans. I am down with Jeff as COY, but I do know that some people will somehow 'take votes away from him' because they didn't make the playoffs. That's silly. Jim breaks it down by looking at the COY winners of the past, what they did, and what their team ended up succeeding in.
I think you should check it out!
As it stands the Jazz are #4 in terms of most ping pong balls. How likely are the Jazz to remain at this level? Well, Utah plays on the road against the Minnesota Timberwolves as game 82 of the season. The Wolves are currently 40-41, and would probably want that other 1 on the win column to say that they were a .500 team. Also they are at home. And it's probably their "Fan appreciation" night. (Seriously, I still can't get over losing to the Lakers last night. It hurts. Even if it's what I wanted. #UDQM) So I would assume that the Jazz lose that game. Even when we're trying we can't beat the Wolves. I can imagine some guys are already on their vacations already.
Beating the Locker Cleanout rush. RT @BRush_25: All boxed up n shipped out— Jody Genessy (@DJJazzyJody) April 14, 2014
Brandon Rush aside, what about the teams around the Jazz? The Orlando Magic are 1.0 games ahead, while the Boston Celtics are 1.0 games behind, and the Los Angeles Lakers are 2.0 games behind. Can Utah catch these teams? Can LA or BOS catch the Jazz?
The Magic play at home against the Indiana Pacers. Indiana just clinched the #1 seed with the Miami Heat loss, and their coach Frank Vogel may be interested in resting their players. That still means Orlando has to win, and they may have plenty of motivation not to do so. To tie them the Jazz would have to lose, and the Magic would have to win. Simple. It's possible. It may even be probable. But I wouldn't put money on it.
The Boston Celtics will host the Washington Wizards for their final game. Washington is an East playoff team that is trying to avoid a match up against the Miami Heat -- and to do so means staving off the Charlotte Bobcats. Washington, holding a 1.0 game lead over the Cats, will go out to win against the Celtics. For the record, the Bobcats will be hosting the Chicago Bulls on that night and are likely to lose. But you can't just assume they will. So Washington will assume the Bobcats will beat the Bulls, and thus, need to beat the Celtics. And thus, we assume the Celtics will lose. So, with that in mind, if Boston loses and the Jazz win then these two teams will be tied. So, boo!
As for the Los Angeles Lakers, well, that game last night was all the buffer we needed. There is only one game left, and even if the Lakers lose their last game (and it is likely that they will, as it's a road game against the San Antonio Spurs -- and their bench can beat most teams starters), and the Jazz win theirs, then LA would still be 1.0 games behind the Jazz.
So, no matter what, we're the worst in the west. (I can't believe I've lived so long to be able to say that) But it's the East we have to be worried about now. The Jazz are in line for a Top 5 pick (but some team always jumps up in the lotto), but we still want the best pick possible. After the estimated wins and losses for the final two nights of the season, I have the 14 lotto teams stacking up like this:
According to the table, the Jazz will have a 17.2% chance of NOT picking in the Top 5. That's a 82.8% chance of being Top 5. What is the difference one spot can make? Well, the one spot below the Jazz guarantees only a 55.3% chance of being a Top 5 pick. I know Matt Harpring and Craig Bolerjack have their talking points written for them, but that's a huge difference. That's the difference between sending Pete Maravich (82.9 ft%) to the free throw line with the game in the balance vs. sending Greg Ostertag (58.0 ft%). You don't send Greg Ostertag to the line to win the game.
The Jazz did the right thing by losing as many games as they could. They need to make sure to lose against the Wolves to secure their future destiny.
Last night a group of fans did something really special, and is worth mentioning here. They had no reason to do so, but they got together and organized and got a "Thank You" card for head coach Tyrone Corbin.
Coach Corbin reading the Thank you card pic.twitter.com/mVRGvsaxw9— David Locke (@Lockedonsports) April 14, 2014
Terrific card from Jazz fans to Coach Corbin pic.twitter.com/xENBpH3uT3— David Locke (@Lockedonsports) April 14, 2014
I like Tyrone Corbin, just not as our head coach. He (and I've gone on the record a few places to say this) may very well be the best assistant coach in the NBA right now. And if you add it all up, he's been a coach with our franchise for over a decade. That's special. He is a part of Utah Jazz history, a big part. And as a result, he's not someone I'm going to gloss over. I disagreed with many things he did, and sometimes I felt like his employment status should be evaluated, but he's a Jazzman. He played here. He played in the playoffs here. He coached here. And he coached in the playoffs here.
No one else in franchise history has done that.
So thank you to Coach Ty for being a Jazzman through and through. And thanks to the fans who took it upon themselves to make that gruff guy smile at least once during this very trying season.