Utah Jazz Continue to Struggle Against Good Teams

Dec 21, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) reacts after missing a basket in the final seconds of the game with teammate center Rudy Gobert (27) against the Sacramento Kings at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Sacramento Kings defeated the Utah Jazz 94-93. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 21, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) reacts after missing a basket in the final seconds of the game with teammate center Rudy Gobert (27) against the Sacramento Kings at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Sacramento Kings defeated the Utah Jazz 94-93. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports /

With just a 6-12 record against teams that currently hold a record above .500, the Utah Jazz have had significant struggles against the NBA’s best so far this season.

The Utah Jazz currently find themselves in fifth place in the Western Conference with a solid 29-17 record. They recently went on an incredible six-game winning streak and have looked leaps and bounds better than last season, particularly when it comes to closing out games and winning in the clutch.

With so much in that previous statement seemingly signifying that all is going quite well for the Jazz, one might think that it would be hard to find much at all to complain about.

While that certainly is the case for the most part, and while I hate to be the downer raining on every Jazz fan’s parade, there’s one issue that has been a continuing problem for the Jazz this season. And in all reality, it’s a BIG problem.

As was loudly reiterated in Monday’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Jazz are struggling in a big way to show up against and beat good teams.

The major difference between this year’s Jazz team and last year’s is that Utah has simply done a much better job of beating inferior teams. They haven’t always been pretty wins, but the Jazz have played noticeably better against teams that you would expect them to beat.

Last season, it seemed like just when the Jazz were getting hot, quite regularly they would suddenly drop a game to a bad team such as the Nets, Magic or Pelicans, for example. These head-scratching and often inexplicable losses were far too common all year long. This season, however, the Jazz are currently 23-5 against teams with a .500 record or worse as of this writing.

Especially considering all the injuries Utah has had to fight through, that’s undoubtedly an incredible mark.

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However, on the flip side of that, while one wouldn’t expect the Jazz to be able to match the .821 win percentage that they’ve posted against losing teams when playing the NBA’s elite, the discrepancy in the records is pretty bad, especially for a Jazz team that is trying to establish itself as one of those elite forces in the league.

Against teams that currently hold a record greater than .500, the Jazz are just 6-12 on the season.

And it’s not like those 12 losses are all coming against the league’s best teams (in fact, two of the wins came against some of the league’s best in the Spurs and Cavs). Many of those defeats are coming at the hands of teams with worse records than the Jazz such as the Grizzlies, Celtics, Hornets and most recently the Thunder. I’d even throw the two losses to the Raptors in there, given that they hold a better record by mere percentage points, having played two less games.

Of course, just because these teams have a worse record than the Jazz doesn’t make them bad teams, in fact, quite the opposite is the case. Regardless of how far the Jazz may be from them in the standings, these are solid teams that Utah is losing to.

Nevertheless, if they hope to have any chance of making some noise in the playoffs, they’ll have to find a way to step up their game against the NBA’s elite. A .333 win percentage against teams with a winning record simply isn’t going to cut it.

In those 12 losses, the Jazz are averaging just 91.6 points per game, exactly eight fewer than their season average. Also, their average margin of defeat is just over 10 points, a significant dip when compared to their season average of outscoring opponents by 4.2 points per game, which is good for the seventh best differential in the league.

Still, as Utah clearly struggles to score against and contain the league’s top teams, it’s also been a bit disheartening to see some of their performances against mediocre teams. Sure, the Jazz’s 23-5 record against teams of that caliber is impressive, but so many of them have been way too close for comfort.

The Ingles’ three-pointer to beat the Lakers, the 11-0 run to end the game to top Minnesota, two ridiculously close games to both the Suns and Mavericks as well as a handful of blown fourth quarter leads are all prime examples that come quickly to mind.

Not only has Utah struggled to beat teams with winning records, but several subpar opponents have given them quite the run for their money on many individual occasions.

Which begs the question, are the Utah Jazz really as good as their record indicates?

I’m scared to try to answer that question, and don’t feel that I really need to as the rest of the season will more than likely overwhelmingly reveal the truth about this Jazz team.

There are still plenty of opportunities left for Utah to improve that record against good teams with winning records and as the Jazz continue to get healthy and grow even more accustomed to one another, they could very well leave all doubts of their status as an elite team in the dust. I certainly hope such will be the case.

The Jazz won’t have to wait long to prove that they can compete with the big boys as they’ll host the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday in what could be a game with critical playoff implications. Memphis is one of those winning teams that Utah has struggled against as the Jazz currently trail the season series 2-1.

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While it’s undoubtedly been great to see the Jazz do a better job of closing winnable games which has pushed them to their current superb record, they have yet to take the next step and log consistent statement wins against the NBA’s best.

They’ll play five such teams between now and the All-Star break and the way the Jazz play against them should be a very clear measuring stick of how competitive we can expect this team to be to close out the season.

And if they want to go into the playoffs with confidence that they can hang with the best, they’ll more than likely have to drastically improve on their current win percentage against teams with winning records between now and the end of the season.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com