Utah Jazz Seek to Create Playoff Chase Chaos
Utah Jazz Seek to Create Playoff Chase Chaos
The Utah Jazz have been faced with adversity all season. Injuries have plagued them horrifically from the beginning of the season. Ironically, this is the healthiest the Jazz have been all year, despite still being without talented young guards Alec Burks and Dante Exum
The Jazz perked league interest with a seven game winning streak right before Gongfu Tea Cup
All-Star break, but have gone 2-5 in their next seven games. Nobody can blame Jazz fans for sweating hard after witnessing this latest blowout loss to San Antonio, followed by their most embarrassing loss of the season at the hands of Brooklyn. Utah is now sitting in ninth place in the Western Conference. The sky is falling, or at least that’s how it might have felt to Jazz fans when they woke up on Sunday morning. But I am here to share one, simple message with my Jazz family.
Do. Not. Panic.
Despite all the struggles and adversity, the Jazz remain poised to create chaos in the Western Conference playoff chase.
It seems hard to believe. When considering the injuries and bad losses, it’s easy to get the impression that this Jazz team could be floating at the bottom of the standings. But here we are, fifty-eight games into the season, and the Jazz have fought hard enough to keep themselves as serious contenders in this playoff discussion.
As it stands after the loss to Brooklyn, Utah is still only a half game out of eight place, and three games out of sixth place. How’s that for a breath of fresh air? Portland is streaking, and at this current rate, the Jazz will not catch them. Dallas and Houston, however, are both 4-6 in their last ten games. Either team, or both, could let the Jazz slip past if they do not quickly turn it around.
While it is highly unlikely that fifth place Memphis could give up their current six game lead to the Jazz, I will not rule it out quite yet. Memphis recently lost core player Marc Gasol to a season-ending injury, and it remains to be seen how Memphis will carry on without him for the remainder of this year. Think Utah’s loss to Brooklyn was embarrassing? Well, Memphis lost to the lowly Suns that same night. The win was the first for the Suns in over a month. The win was also their first since firing their old head coach earlier this season. The Grizzlies are fortunate to be in the fifth spot at the moment, but nothing is guaranteed for them down the stretch.
Utah has the time and the talent to turn this ship around. Being a half game out of the playoffs, with twenty-four games left to play, is plenty of time to jump ahead in the standings once again. Any team that has a top five defense will always have a chance. Quin Snyder is a savvy coach, he will not get discouraged. He will use these last two losses to inspire and motivate this young team.
The point guard position continues to stick out like a sore thumb (but you already knew that, right?). On Saturday, Utah’s three point guards combined for a total of three assists. Utah will need to see an immediate rise in point guard production to get them back on track, which won’t be easy. Versus Brooklyn, Mack shot 3 for 7 from the field, while Neto and Burke went 0 for 8 combined.
So far, I am not a huge fan of Snyder’s decision to start Mack over Neto and Burke, despite the solid debut that Mack had against Portland. Not only is Mack starting, but he is getting more playing time than Neto and Burke combined the past couple of games. Personally, I would still prefer to see Neto and Burke get most of the playing time, with Mack as the third stringer. When we traded for Mack, I never envisioned him starting games or getting so many minutes this quickly. Despite his flaws, Trey Burke is too talented as a scorer to leave on the bench for all but six minutes of a game.
If the Jazz do make the playoffs, they will not have any time to celebrate. The Jazz would be playing against one of these four point guards: Steph Curry, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, or Chris Paul. Most likely, that guard will be Curry or Parker. Is it fair to expect much from Mack, Neto, or Burke in a seven game series against either of those two? Perhaps not. The Jazz will be forced to depend on the wings and the bigs to make up for whatever the point guards are lacking. Thankfully, Mack is a big 6-3 guard. Snyder will be happy to have him as another option to throw at a star like Curry. Anyone else excited for 6-6 Exum to come back into the lineup? Utah could sure use his length to aid in defending these top point guards.
The Jazz will not go down lightly in the playoffs though. Steph Curry should be cheering for the Rockets to get the eight seed. The Rockets won’t try to play defense, the Jazz will. Utah currently ranks third best in the league for Defensive PPG, while Houston ranks in the bottom five. While Utah may not have a designated lockdown defender to slow Curry down, they do have 7-1 Rudy Gobert and 6-10 Derrick Favors to lock down the paint. Utah’s defense can be stifling when all five players are on the same page, and I have no doubt that Coach Quin Snyder is itching for an opportunity to throw Curry off his groove. Snyder will hit the film room hard and give his team a chance to get into Curry’s head.
The youth of the Jazz, combined with the team’s stellar defensive ability, has the chance to create headaches for any potential playoff opponent. The Jazz are a true example of an eighth seed team that no one wants to play. Rumor is that Alec Burks might return soon, and words can’t express how much Utah will appreciate his scoring ability. Burks may even be able to fill in at point guard when needed, if the Jazz need an offensive spark. Alec Burks filling in at point guard, combined on the floor with Rodney Hood and Gordon Hayward, would give the Jazz their best scoring lineup of the season. As a team who has struggled to get points on the board this season, Alec scoring ten to twenty per game off the bench might be the difference in helping the Jazz to consistently reach 100+ each game, and would take an enormous amount of pressure off of Hood and Hayward.
With twenty-four games remaining on the schedule, I estimate that seventeen of those twenty-four games are very “winnable”. If they win most of the seventeen games, and steal a win or two away from teams like Toronto and the LA Clippers, the Jazz will be in a solid position to climb in the playoff standings. Dallas, Houston, and Memphis may be lucky to win half of their games to end the season based on their play as of late. The back half of the Western Conference is weaker than it has been in a long, long time. The Jazz need to take advantage of that this season while they have the chance. I do believe that those three teams will continue to lose games and give Utah the opportunity to climb.
The season is far from over. The Jazz are very much alive in this playoff race. Utah is still one of the league’s most dangerous teams, regardless of the poor play we saw last week. If the Jazz put a few wins together, it is not insane to think they that still have a chance at the sixth seed. Wishful thinking? Maybe. The sixth seed is within reach though, regardless of how crazy it may sound now. Utah would love to face LA or OKC in the first round over the other two alternatives, and they should give it their all to reach that level.
I expect to see the Jazz bounce back from these last two losses, and get themselves into the thick of this playoff chase. Don’t give up, Jazz fans. The fun is just getting started. Next up is a road game against Boston on Monday night.
About the author: Braden is a lifelong Utah Jazz die-hard. He created and manages the Facebook page, “Swat Lake City Jazz”. Please follow this Facebook page to stay up to date on all the latest Jazz news and top stories.