Utah Jazz: With weird Western Conference, outlook isn’t all that dreary

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - NOVEMBER 10: Joe Ingles #2 and Ricky Rubio #3 of the Utah Jazz react against the Miami Heat on November 10, 2017 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - NOVEMBER 10: Joe Ingles #2 and Ricky Rubio #3 of the Utah Jazz react against the Miami Heat on November 10, 2017 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Utah Jazz have gotten off to a slow start this season, but oddly enough, so have many of their fellow Western Conference opponents.

It’s easy to be upset that the Utah Jazz have started the season at 7-11 and have dropped a number of winnable games including contests against the Brooklyn Nets, Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks. Even though we all knew the Jazz were likely to take a significant step back this season, that doesn’t change the fact that their underwhelming results so far have been disappointing.

However, if one were to suppose that the Jazz were the lone team struggling in the Western Conference, they would be dramatically mistaken. Coming into the 2017-18 campaign, most NBA fans were confident that the West would be a powerhouse whereas the Eastern Conference would be little more than a joke. Although the balance of power still leans significantly towards the West overall, the gap hasn’t been quite as drastic as one might suppose.

In fact, the East currently has more teams above .500 than the West has and several East teams that many projected would be less than competitive have actually played rather well. This includes the likes of the Detroit Pistons (11-6), New York Knicks (9-7), Philadelphia 76ers (9-7) and Indiana Pacers (10-8). The East’s top nine teams have winning records whereas only the top seven in the West can boast such an accomplishment.

And while the Jazz’s record of 7-11, four games under .500, might make it seem like they’re already well out of contention in this early part of the season, the slow start of several other teams actually has the Jazz in a decent spot. As the standings currently reside, the Los Angeles Lakers have the eighth spot in the West with a less than stirring 8-10 record.

There are three teams sandwiched between the Lakers and the Jazz – the 7-9 Memphis Grizzlies, the 7-9 Oklahoma City Thunder and the 7-11 Phoenix Suns, but from a pure record standpoint, the Jazz are one single game out of eighth place. Thus, even a small three or four-game winning streak could instantly reverse Utah’s immediate fate.

And there’s certainly opportunity to make such a push. Not only do the Jazz enjoy five of their next six games at home, but there are a number of reeling and struggling teams throughout the Western Conference. The Minnesota Timberwolves (10-7) have at times been solid but at others have lacked defense and focus. They’ve currently lost two straight.

The Denver Nuggets (10-7)  just discovered that they’ll be without the newly added Paul Millsap indefinitely as he undergoes wrist surgery. The New Orleans Pelicans (9-8) have long struggled with injuries and have the volatile DeMarcus Cousins on their team who, although he’s been playing well, could seemingly derail his team at any turn.

The eighth place Los Angeles Lakers, despite a decent start, just don’t seem to have the experience or depth to truly stay in the place they’re at. The Memphis Grizzlies are without Mike Conley for the foreseeable future as he deals with an Achilles injury, have struggled since he’s been out and have lost five straight.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have simply been a mess and have dramatically underperformed thus far. They’ve lost two in a row and six out of their last ten and play the Golden State Warriors tonight. There’s certainly time for them to turn it around and one would think that they have the talent to do so, but they have a lot of kinks to work out if they are to do so.

Then there’s the Phoenix Suns who defeated the Jazz earlier in the year and have made significant strides since parting ways with former head coach Earl Watson, but still don’t seem like that daunting of a threat. Below the Jazz are the LA Clippers (5-10) who have been hit hard with injuries, have lost nine straight and are simply falling apart at the seams. Unless they turn things around quickly, they’ll be out of the playoff picture extremely soon.

Last of all are the Sacramento Kings and Dallas Mavericks, who simply put are dumpster fires that don’t figure to be competitive at all this season.

With all that being said, it’s pretty clear how much the West is struggling be it due to poor performances, injuries or bad chemistry. Unfortunately, the Jazz likewise fall into all three of those categories, so it’s not going to be a cakewalk for them to claw their way back into the West’s top 8, but it’s at least nice to know that there’s more of an opportunity than would have been presumed going into this season with how deep the West was predicted to be.

So Utah’s 7-11 start and a daunting month of December ahead are definitely reasons for concern, but far from a reason for all-out panic. The Jazz have gotten off to a rough start, but over half of the Western Conference seems to be having similar woes as well. We’re only 18 games into a long season and there’s still plenty of time for the Jazz to right the ship.

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And if the rest of the nearest Western Conference foes continue to have the same ups and downs, that will only give the Jazz even better chances.

It’s been a bit of an upside down season so far across the NBA, with the East outplaying the West and several teams projected as powerhouses getting off to slow starts. While that’s certainly been discouraging for fans of those teams, at least it also provides hope that the Utah Jazz, among others, may be able to turn things around and still find a way to sneak their way into the playoffs once all is said and done.