Why the coming weeks will test the Jazz – and determine the team’s future
January marks a new calendar year, the middle of an NBA season, and it’s usually the time when playoff-bound teams really separate themselves from the pack, able to see the playoffs more clearly than in October when the season has begun.
It’s an exciting time in the world of basketball, but this January is going to test the Utah Jazz in ways they may not have been tested in years past, and what will over the next few weeks could determine a lot about the future of the Jazz.
The Jazz kicked off January with a New Year’s game against the Golden State Warriors, followed by a grueling five-game road trip in which the team was finally exposed to COVID-19 after lasting longer than any other team in the league keeping players out of league health and safety protocols.
The Jazz lost to the Warriors and then went 2-3 on that road trip, earning their first three-game losing streak of the season. But the team knows things aren’t going to get any easier.
The Jazz came out of this road trip in early January clinging to the third seed in the Western Conference by the skin of their teeth. And, by then, the Jazz had put together a respectable 28-13 record.
But that record includes many victories over lesser opponents. Against the league’s top teams, the Jazz have just one win to their name, and that was an early-season victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, who were playing without two of their starters – Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. .
The only thing that has seemed consistent with the Jazz this season has been their defensive inconsistency and the frustration that has developed with the players. So when the Jazz anticipate the schedule ahead of them, they know they have their work cut out for them.
“We have to do it,” Donovan Mitchell said of the defensive team. “This month is not easy for us, the calendar is not going to be easy for us. So it’s like, yeah, we have to go out there and do it all night because the teams are coming towards us.
And these are the powers that will come this month.
By Feb. 4, the Jazz’s last game before the NBA’s Feb. 6 trade deadline, the Jazz will face the West-leading Warriors (Jan. 23) and Phoenix Suns (Jan. 24-26). ) and Eastern Conference juggernaut Brooklyn Nets (February 4).
But the competition does not stop at the first three teams. The Jazz will also face the Los Angeles Lakers (January 17), Denver Nuggets (January 16 and February 2), Memphis Grizzlies (January 28) and Minnesota Timberwolves (January 30) – all of the Western Conference teams who appear to be related in the playoffs.
It’s a brutal timeline, and it comes just as the team is experiencing a string of positive COVID-19 cases on the roster and across the coaching staff. January, no matter on the field or off, is not going to forgive.
That said, whether he forgives or not, this month is hugely important to see how the Jazz stack up against the top teams in the league and especially the competition out West.
Implications for the playoffs
But it’s not all wins, losses and tests of the team’s mettle. There could be massive implications of the outcome of each of the games that await the Jazz.
The Jazz could very well decide they don’t want to burn themselves out trying to get the No. 1 seed like they did last season. But the two teams ahead of them in the standings are playing at elite levels that appear to have been matched by no one else in the NBA in the 2021-22 season. If the Jazz manage to rack up enough wins to earn the top seed, they could avoid having to face the Warriors or Suns all the way to the Western Conference Finals.
Win the No. 2 or 3 seed, and the Jazz might end up having to face one or even both to move on in the playoffs.
Also, with the Jazz facing so many Western Conference contenders this month, those games could end up being very important in tiebreaker situations that could end up determining the seeding.
“Obviously these games mean a bit more, because of the rankings,” said Rudy Gobert. “If we win those games, we have a chance to be the first seed in the West, which is pretty good in the playoff bracket. But at the same time, if we lose those games, we always learn Whether we win or lose, we learn – and we know full well that being the first seed doesn’t mean you’re going to win the championship.
The trade deadline
In order to be at the level the Jazz want to be, who are vying for an NBA title, they will need to be nearly match-proof, something they hoped to achieve through the most recent moves of the offseason.
But the Jazz’s small-ball lineups haven’t gone as they’d hoped, and perimeter defense remains the Jazz’s most glaring imperfection. The Jazz already look set to move, with two spots open on the roster, but their performance in the coming weeks could push Jazz Brass to move in a more serious way.
Last month, when the Jazz hired Danny Ainge as CEO of Utah Jazz Basketball, he and general manager Justin Zanik promised they wouldn’t be afraid to change things if they thought they could improve. the team.
“What I can guarantee you is that this organization will know – and already know but will continue to – everything that is an opportunity for us to improve,” Zanik said. “A lot of it can be very, very grey. Some of the simple (moves) that are black and white usually either mean they’re not available or they’re not worth doing. These are the grays where, as Danny said, you have to give up something to get something good.
Zanik explained that Jazz’s eyesight improved this season through three lenses; they can improve internally, with the team organically increasing its level as part of building the current roster or through the development of other players; they can make small moves that improve the team on the sidelines of the roster; or they can make a seismic movement that changes the main rotation.
Jazz’s front office probably already has an idea of what kind of move he’d like to make, what he’d be willing to part with, and what he wants in return. These conversations lasted all season.
But what happens through the brutal schedule ahead and how the Jazz is able to perform, adapt and survive will likely carry some weight once the time comes to make decisions for the powers that be. square.
This could end up being the toughest and most important stretch of the Jazz’s 2021-2022 schedule, and here it is.