Utah Jazz Playoff Outlook: Where Will the Jazz End Up?

Jan 16, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) reacts against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Jazz defeated the Suns 106-101. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 16, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) reacts against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Jazz defeated the Suns 106-101. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Entering the most crucial stretch of the season, where do the Utah Jazz sit in the Western Conference playoff picture, and how does it look going forward?

With less than 20 games to go in the 2016-2017 season, the Utah Jazz are entering the home-stretch of their most successful season in seven years. The Jazz are on pace for 50 wins, which would be the first time reaching 50 wins since the 2009-10 season. Barring a complete meltdown, the Jazz are going to make the playoffs this season for the first time in five years.

The playoff picture in the Western Conference is fairly clear-cut in positions one through three. Golden State, San Antonio and Houston have separated themselves from the rest of the teams in the West and those three positions should be relatively locked up between them. After Houston at the three seed, the conference picture opens up and will allow for anything to happen.

The Jazz currently sit with a game-and-a-half lead over the Los Angeles Clippers for the four seed in the West. They hold a four-game edge over division-opponent Oklahoma City, who currently sits in the seventh seed. The Jazz are most likely going to end up somewhere in that 4-7 position.

What do they need to do in order to maintain their grasp on the home-court protected fourth seed? Would it be more ideal to slide in the standings to allow for a possible better match-up? How will the Jazz fare in the playoffs? These questions and more are legitimate ones to be asked.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

Can the Jazz Hang on to the Fourth Seed?

It’s fairly safe to say that the Jazz have not played their best basketball lately. They are 5-5 in their last ten games, including blowing a 21-point lead in Dallas and getting blown out on their home court by the Timberwolves. They escaped with a win in Sacramento after a heroic tip-in from Rudy Gobert. The Jazz have played better basketball earlier this season, and will need to bring back some consistency in order to secure the four spot.

The chances of the Jazz holding onto the fourth seed also depend on the performance of other contending teams. The Clippers, Grizzlies, and Thunder are all on the heels of the Jazz, being all within at least four games.

Looking at each team’s schedule on paper, it seems that the Jazz have the most difficult remaining schedule of these teams in contention. Of the Jazz’s 19 remaining games on the schedule, 12 are against current playoff teams, and only eight of those 19 are on their home floor.

The Jazz will play seven of their next nine games on the road. The Jazz also end their season by playing at Golden State and the Spurs in Salt Lake City. If the Jazz are going to retain possession of the fourth seed, they will need to do so by beating good teams, which they have struggled with this season.

Is the fourth seed the most ideal position for the Jazz?

If the season ended today, the Jazz would face the Los Angeles Clippers and have home-court advantage. The Jazz are 0-2 against the Clippers this season, including a game in which they  lost 72-88 in one of their worst offensive performances of the season. The Clippers are not the best match-up for the Jazz, with a versatile PF in Blake Griffin that can extend to the perimeter, which has caused issues for the Jazz.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /

The Grizzlies and Thunder also have had their way with the Jazz this year, beating them in four of six games. Considering this, these teams may also not be great match-ups for the Jazz. If the Jazz were to slide to the six seed, they would face the Houston Rockets, a team that they have beat handily once this season. Regardless of all possible match-ups, the Jazz will have to play their best basketball to advance and make a run at the Western Conference Finals.

The Jazz have also not played any better at home this year than on the road. They are 21-12 at home compared to 18-12 on the road, where they score more points as a team per game. However, It is hard to imagine that the Jazz would be better off in a series that did not go through Vivint SmartHome Arena. Jazz fans are known throughout the league as some of the best and loudest, so the Jazz would definitely benefit from holding on to that fourth seed.

How will the Jazz fare in the Playoffs?

There will be a new feel to the air in Salt Lake City come mid-April. With the Jazz back in the playoffs for the first time in several years, there is reason to celebrate for Jazz fans across Utah and the rest of the country. Led by their All-Star Gordon Hayward and DPOY Candidate Rudy Gobert, the Jazz will be a stiff test for any team in the playoffs, and it should be exciting to see how they play in a series against some of the top teams in the league.

That being said, there is some reason to worry about how the Jazz will fare in the playoffs this year. They have struggled with winning teams this season with a current record of 10-17. That is the worst record of any current playoff team against winning teams. Their offense is the more inconsistent portion of their game, especially with the injuries they have had this season and the impact that has on rhythm and groove.

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Considering where the Jazz have come from, a playoff appearance should be enough for the organization to call the season a success, and should leave hope for fans going forward to future seasons.

The Jazz have a young core built around guys that are easy to root for. Regardless of how the Jazz perform in the playoffs this year, the organization is heading in the right direction in terms of contention and playing winning basketball.