by Daniel Olsen
With the regular season coming to a close this evening, it’s time to answer some questions as well as predict some questions that have yet to be answered for the Utah Jazz.
Who will the Jazz face in the first round?
With just four games separating seeds 3-6 in the Western Conference, there are still plenty of questions to be answered by the Jazz. They will either be the six seed if they lose to the TrailBlazers and the Nuggets beat the Lakers tonight. A win locks up the five seed since the Jazz have the tiebreaker over Denver. This would give the Jazz their second straight Northwest Division title.
All four of these seeds play at 7:30 p.m. MST. The Jazz may want to check the halftime scores if there is a certain matchup they want.
This is because the Warriors would lock up the three seed with a win over New Orleans. However, if they lose and the Mavericks beat the Spurs, then the three seed would go to Dallas.
The most ideal situation might be for the Jazz to play Dallas as the six seed. While it isn’t the most likely, it would give the Jazz easier first and second matchups. Luka is tough, but his supporting cast isn’t as deep as the Warriors. The Jazz would also avoid a historically elite Suns team in the second round and instead play a Grizzlies team which they already defeated in five games in the playoffs last year.
The Jazz should rest their starters, but they should also absolutely try to win this game. It is likely they would face Golden State in the first round if they were to slip to the six seed. They would be significant underdogs in that scenario and could risk a very early exit. It’s better to have momentum going into the playoffs.
What is the biggest concern facing the team in the postseason?
Going back to momentum, the answer has to be how they have collapsed under pressure. The main frustration is the Jazz are capable of beating good teams. If they only played three quarters, the Jazz would have double-digit wins over the Clippers, Warriors and Suns in the last month. Those are some of the best teams in the Western Conference.
The Jazz will face some of these tight situations frequently in the playoffs. The game starts to slow down once the postseason starts. Can they tune out the noise? It will be crucial for them to steal a game on the road. Even that doesn’t mean they are out of the woods though. They have blown 2-0 and 3-1 leads in consecutive postseasons.
If the third time is the charm, the Jazz will need to start out fast and keep their foot on the gas even when they are ahead. When momentum starts to sway the other way, they can’t panic. They just need to be calm and find the shots that they made in the first three quarters.
Who will the key player for the Jazz be in the first series?
This has to be their best offensive player: Donovan Mitchell. Many on the team have been criticized for their defense last year against the Clippers. The Jazz still have the reigning Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert. They also might have some answers on the defensive end with Royce O’Neale and Danuel House vying to fill that role.
Mitchell has had criticism thrown his way on his late game performance as well as rumors of him possibly making an early departure from Utah. He has promised fans to hang in there. He thinks the Jazz will be fine.
It’s time to back it up. Last year they coasted through the regular season and ran into a brick wall in the second round of the playoffs. Part of that was Conley and Mitchell being hobbled, but there are no excuses in the playoffs. They were feeling well enough to be on the court. This year, hopefully the adversity in the regular season will prepare this team to play as a cohesive unit in the postseason.
Mitchell has had some stellar games in the playoffs. He won’t be perfect, but he does need to keep the offense running efficiently. He cares deeply about the team’s success, sometimes so much that he is hard on himself when he struggles. While his scoring is still up, he will need to keep the efficiency up as well in the fourth quarter. He needs to make the right pass, not revert to isolation shots, and cut down on the turnovers.
If the Jazz play like the number one offense in the NBA, they will make it out of the first round. If not, then they will go home early and the rumor mill will start churning more than it has been since the 2017 offseason.
Featured image courtesy Rick Bowmer, AP Photo