by Daniel Olsen
(Image via Deseret News)
A little over a month ago the Jazz weren’t playing good basketball. Now with the return of Gobert and the confidence of Dunk champion Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz have won 14 of their last 16 games. However they still can’t seem to close the two game gap between them and the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The good news is that the Jazz still have 19 more games to re-establish their position in the playoff race. The race is so tight teams could literally be edging out another team by a hair. The Jazz have the 10th best record in the Western Conference but they are only four games away from 3rd.
Jazz fans should be cheering for any Western team not named the Warriors or Rockets to lose. Currently Utah has the worst record in the Northwest Division despite having a winning record.
The Nuggets have won three of their last five games since the break with their only losses coming to Houston and a narrow one to the Clippers. They aren’t doing the Jazz any favors as they just defeated LeBron and company and are currently holding onto the final playoff spot.
The Thunder currently sit one game ahead of the Nuggets. They have won four of their last six games since the All Star break. Maybe having three guys on the team who have combined for 22 All-Star appearances is helping just a little. The Thunder have a mix of tough and easy games coming up so it will be interesting to see what they are made of. They should lose to the Rockets then crush the Suns then have an interesting game against the reeling yet tough Spurs. The great thing about the NBA is that it’s unpredictable. The Thunder could end the Rocket’s winning streak then go on to lose to the Suns. Time will tell if this team is a contender or a pretender.
The Blazers are threatening the Jazz for the hottest team in the NBA. Sure the Jazz has their 11 game win streak but Portland was the team that ended that and they haven’t lost since. They have climbed from the edge of the playoff cliff to third in the West. The Blazers have a couple easier games against the Lakers and Knicks before they get testing again against Golden State who they defeated just before the All Star break. Jazz fans can only pray that star Portland point guard Damian Lillard will return to his college stomping grounds to play alongside Donovan Mitchell in a couple years. A free agency decision like that could possibly give the Jazz the best backcourt in the NBA.
The Timberwolves were perhaps the best team in the division but with great power comes great responsibility. Throughout the whole season it looked like home court advantage was a guarantee but they have only won 2 of their last 5 games after the break. They are still fourth place in the West yet they are only 3.5 games ahead of Utah in 10th place.
Even injuries aren’t playing to the advantage of the Jazz. Demarcus Cousins got injured but Anthony Davis is playing like an MVP candidate so New Orleans looks like they might do enough to stay in. Jimmy Butler got injured but the Timberwolves started the season on such a great pace that they won’t miss the playoffs as long as they continue to beat the teams they should beat. Blake Griffin was traded to Detroit but the Clippers have an excellent coach in Doc Rivers and an intimidating skill of whining to the refs. Do not sleep on them.
In all it will be a close race but the Jazz need to win just about every game they are favored in to make the playoffs. If they even win some games they are the underdog in then perhaps they could somehow climb up to the six seed and avoid dangerous teams like Houston and Golden State.
45 wins has been said to be the magic number to qualify for the playoffs in the West this year. It’s tough but here are some good projections:
1. Houston (66-16)
2. Golden State (64-18)
3. Oklahoma City (52-32)
4. New Orleans (51-31)
5. Portland (50-32)
6. Utah (47-35)
7. San Antonio (46-36)
8. Minnesota (45-37)
First two out:
9. Denver (44-48)
10. LA Clippers (42-40)
These are some bold predictions but perhaps the Jazz can make the dreams come true for Gobert and Mitchell fanboys and girls everywhere. Another year in the playoffs with perhaps a new intriguing rivalry within their own division would certainly be a site to see. The excitement would match the vibrancy of their new red and gold City Edition jerseys.
It’s time to take note Utah. Win or lose the Jazz have already done a lot of winning when healthy this year and it will be a great season for fans to get excited about as the climax swiftly approaches amidst the March Madness college basketball tournament season.