by Daniel Olsen | Christmas is coming early this year. At least for Jazz fans it does feel that way. The Jazz start their 2020-2021 campaign just two days before Christmas as they play their season opener in Portland. The first half of the season is all that is announced so far under the new NBA format. The second half will be announced by the time the first half of the announced schedule is complete. With COVID-19 still a factor in the sports world, it will be interesting to see how many games are played. The Jazz will finish the first half of the season approximately one year after they ended it on that infamous March evening in Oklahoma City.
Let’s take a looking from Portland to Philly! We will highlight the key parts of the first half of the Jazz season to watch out for.
The national broadcast games: After the three game preseason, there will be 37 regular season game for the Jazz in Part I of the schedule. Of those games, only ten are nationally televised. Six of those games are on NBA TV, two are on TNT and two are on ESPN. Below are the nationally televised games:
12/31 Suns @ Jazz 7 PM MST on NBA TV
1/10 Jazz @ Pistons 1 PM MST on NBA TV
1/19 Pelicans @ Jazz 7 PM MST on NBA TV
1/21 Pelicans @ Jazz 8 PM MST on TNT
1/23 Warriors @ Jazz 3 PM MST on NBA TV
1/29 Mavericks @ Jazz 8 PM MST on ESPN
1/31 Jazz @ Nuggets 1:30 PM MST on NBA TV
2/9 Celtics @ Jazz 8 PM MST on TNT
2/24 Lakers @ Jazz 8 PM MST on ESPN
3/1 Jazz @ Pelicans 6 PM MST on NBA TV
The Jazz play the Pelicans more than any other team on these channels with three games on the slate. For a playoff team, the Jazz don’t get nearly as much national coverage as they should. They are tied for 15th for games on true national TV (not counting NBA TV). They just have four with two on ESPN and two on TNT. Hopefully there will be more true national games scheduled on the back half.
The Jazz also don’t get a Christmas game for the second straight year after hosting the Blazers two years ago. Three of the top four seeds in the playoffs last year made it. Six of the ten featured teams are from the Western Conference. You can argue that the Jazz have a stronger case than the two other Western Conference teams on there in the Pelicans and Warriors. However, the Warriors have a national following and big market due to their success in the not too distant past. The Pelicans also have a rising star in Zion Williamson.
The Jazz will have to make another deep postseason run such as the second round at minimum to be considered for the holiday national spotlight. On the bright side, the Jazz players will get to spend Christmas with their families before hosting the Timberwolves the day after.
Toughest and easiest stretch:
It depends on what you consider hard. The first half of January is tough with the longest road stretch of the season at seven games. it is difficult being away from home that long. However, the difficulty starts right out of the gate where the Jazz don’t play in the same city or even state in the first four games in December. They go to Portland and then home followed by a trip to OKC then back home for a New Years back-to-back before the road trip.
As far as the difficulty of opponent, the Jazz have the sixth toughest projected schedule for this first half of the announced season. According to Tankathon, their toughest games so far include three matchups with the Clippers, two with the Bucks and one with the Lakers. These three teams were three of the top four best records in the NBA last year. Four of these games are played within a 12-day span in February with two of them being on the road.
I feel like home court will be less of a factor if only 1,000 fans are allowed in games to start the year. February is the toughest month which is fine since it’s the shortest month. If the Jazz can get off to a good start and win as they rack up the travel miles to start the season, then February won’t feel as daunting when they face the top teams in the NBA.
The longest home stretch is a six-game home stand in the latter half of January. The easiest six teams they will face are the Pistons (2), Knicks (2), Cavs and Thunder respectively. Four of those games will be played in January. I think the latter half of January will be the easiest stretch as the six game home stretch features none of the toughest games and a game vs the Knicks.
January is a rough time of year for many as the holidays are over and the winter blues can hover over Jazz fans like inversions along the valleys of the Wasatch Front. However, if the Jazz can survive the brutal first half, then it may as well be springtime for the Jazz in the much easier second half. This will prepare them for the tough month of February when the opponents get more difficult.
Most important games:
The biggest one Jazz fans should have marked on their calendars is the first matchup against the team that came back from 3-1 to beat them: The Denver Nuggets. The Jazz go to Mile High City on Sunday, January 17th before facing them again exactly two weeks later at home on an NBA TV broadcast. The biggest games are those primetime matchups against good teams. However, the most important games have to be the teams the Jazz should beat. Good playoff teams win these games. If they don’t, it makes it that much harder to catch up when they play good teams.
Because of the combination of national TV and easier opponents at home, I think the Jazz need to win two if not all three of these games:
1/19 – Pelicans at Jazz
1/21 – Pelicans at Jazz
1/23 – Warriors at Jazz
These are three decent challenges but most likely contenders for the eight seed in the playoffs. With the Klay Thompson injury the Warriors are not the same. It’s always hard to beat a team twice in a row so I think the Jazz have to win at least one of the games vs the Pelicans and hope that lightning can strike twice.
These are just some of my thoughts on the first half of the Jazz schedule. With six back-to-back games, the Jazz will have to endure through a tough schedule as they look to improve their position in the Western Conference standings.
Featured image courtesy Scott Winterton | Deseret News