Can the Utah Jazz stay at .500 after a daunting December?

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Alec Burks #10 and Jonas Jerebko #8 of the Utah Jazz celebrate pay during a timeout in a 126-107 win over the LA Clippers at Staples Center on November 30, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Alec Burks #10 and Jonas Jerebko #8 of the Utah Jazz celebrate pay during a timeout in a 126-107 win over the LA Clippers at Staples Center on November 30, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

There has been a lot made of the Utah Jazz’s tough month of December, but will it really end up as bad as some are predicting?

After last night’s win over the LA Clippers, the Utah Jazz finally found themselves back at a .500 record of 11-11. Considering that it wasn’t long ago at all that Utah was facing some significant struggles and were well under that mark, in some ways it’s surprising that they were able to climb back to such a record so quickly.

Nevertheless, their play has been much improved of late and it has therefore produced such favorable results. Not only are the Jazz at 11-11, but they’re also now solidly in eighth place in the Western Conference a good two games ahead of both the ninth place Oklahoma City Thunder and tenth place LA Clippers who both own a record of 8-12.

That’s obviously great news for the Jazz and, quite frankly, although Utah took a bit of a roundabout way to get there, I think if we had all been told that they’d start the season out 11-11 without knowing about a eight game out of ten losing streak, we’d be pretty satisfied. And seeing how well the Jazz have played in recent wins (four out of their last five) by thoroughly dominating their opponents, there’s certainly a lot to be optimistic and exciting about.

However, for much of the preseason and all during the early-going of 2017-18, one of the topics that has been brought up time and time again has been that the Jazz are in for a terrifying December that could very well put a major damper on their record heading into the rest of the season. Well, that time is finally upon us as the calendar has turned over to month number 12 and the Jazz kick their rough December off tonight with a game on the wrong end of a back-to-back against the New Orleans Pelicans who are currently seventh in the West.

That in and of itself will be challenging, but things only get worse from there. The month of December features nine games on the road (six of them coming as part of a brutal six-game road stretch), five sets of back-to-back games and 11 games against teams in the top 8 of their conference as well as three others against the Oklahoma City Thunder who, despite currently being in ninth place, are loaded with talent and bound to figure things out eventually.

There’s literally only one easy game for the entire month – a road contest against the Chicago Bulls with three days of rest prior.

With all of that adding up, it’s not hard to see why some Jazz fans are feeling less than optimistic about their team’s chances during this upcoming stretch. It’s going to be difficult, that’s for sure, but based on Utah’s recent play and some of the issues their foes from around the league have been facing, I’m beginning to think that December may not turn out as gloomy as some might think.

Will there be some losses along the way? Absolutely. You simply can’t play that many games against that many good teams and expect to come out unscathed. But if they’re able to get through a devastating month at or near a .500 record, it will put them in a great spot to finish strong in the remaining three and a half months of the season. With that being said, let’s take a look at Utah’s upcoming schedule for the month and then really dissect their chances.

  • 12/1 vs. New Orleans
  • 12/4 vs. Washington
  • 12/5 at Oklahoma City
  • 12/7 vs. Houston
  • 12/9 at Milwaukee
  • 12/13 at Chicago
  • 12/15 at Boston
  • 12/16 at Cleveland
  • 12/18 at Houston
  • 12/20 at Oklahoma City
  • 12/21 vs. San Antonio
  • 12/23 vs. Oklahoma City
  • 12/26 at Denver
  • 12/27 at Golden State
  • 12/30 vs. Cleveland

Now, I’m going to go through each game and rank it with either a W for a win, an M for a maybe and a L for a loss as well as with a brief explanation. Of course, these are only projections and we all know that things could change, but this should at least give us a nice starting place.

  • 12/1 vs. New Orleans – M, back-to-back and New Orleans has been playing good. Tough without Rudy.
  • 12/4 vs. Washington – W, Utah played well against WAS last year, and with no John Wall.(based on his initial time table), I like their chances.
  • 12/5 at Oklahoma City – M, back-to-back on the road, but OKC hasn’t played well at all.
  • 12/7 vs. Houston – L, The Rockets are so dang good and they already crushed the Jazz earlier in the year.
  • 12/9 at Milwaukee – W, The Jazz have played well against Milwaukee including a convincing win earlier in the season.
  • 12/13 at Chicago – W, Chicago is downright awful.
  • 12/15 at Boston – M, I know Boston is good, but I really think they could come back down to earth soon and even without Gordon Hayward playing, Jazz will have a chip on their shoulder.
  • 12/16 at Cleveland – L, back-to-back against a Cleveland team that’s quickly righting the ship.
  • 12/18 at Houston – L, see description from the game on 12/7.
  • 12/20 at Oklahoma City – M, Maybe OKC will have figured it out by this point, but I still think they’re very beatable.
  • 12/21 vs. San Antonio – M, I could be overly optimistic with an M on the wrong side of a back-to-back, but these late night TNT games against the Spurs can be crazy and San Antonio won’t be as daunting if Kawhi Leonard is still out.
  • 12/23 vs. Oklahoma City – M, I really like Utah’s chances in this one since they’ll be at home, but still putting this in the same category as the other OKC bouts.
  • 12/26 at Denver – W, The Jazz have already handled the Nuggets twice and without Millsap, I think Denver will continue to slide.
  • 12/27 at Golden State – L, At Golden State on the second night of a back-to-back? Give me a break…
  • 12/30 vs. Cleveland – M, LeBron has lost six straight in Salt Lake City and this comes at the end of a three-game road trip for the Cavs. Can the Jazz make it seven in a row?

So if we total that up, I have it calculated at four wins, seven maybes and four losses. That wasn’t planned by any means, but that turned out pretty dang balanced if I do say so myself and seems a great recipe for finishing the month at or near a .500 record. I suppose this would mean the worst case scenario would be a 4-11 record in the month of December whereas the best case scenario would be 11-4.

I seriously doubt the latter is realistic at all, so let’s just take a closer look at those maybes. If Utah can find a way to win four of the seven of them, they’ll finish above .500 at 8-7. Even if they win three, 7-8 is not bad at all considering how brutal this stretch is. Of the maybes, I feel pretty confident that the Jazz will win at least one of the games against Oklahoma City and two is not implausible.

Other than that, the game against New Orleans to start off the month is quite winnable and I truly believe the one against Boston is as well, although Utah’s overall road woes concern me. The Spurs and Cavs games may be out of reach, but like I said, LeBron has struggled in SLC in recent years.

If I’m honest with myself, I think the Jazz will probably win two or three of the maybes which would result in them going either 6-9 or 7-8 in December. While neither of those sound all that great, neither is anywhere close to a death knell either.

And, who knows, if Utah’s recent play can carry over to road games and against tough opponents, they may very well be able to nab more W’s than we think! If that ends up being the case, before you know it those OKC games, among others, look a lot more winnable and suddenly we’re truly talking a 8-7 or 9-6 record, allowing the Jazz to indeed stay at .500 by month’s end.

I don’t know that such will be the case, but either way, after taking a closer look at the schedule, I’m feeling much better about Utah’s chances of getting through December with their heads above water. Even if they’re a few games below .500, they’ve already proved this year when they were 7-11 that they’re capable of bouncing back.

Not only that, but then the Jazz are in for a much easier January and the fact of the matter is that the West simply hasn’t looked as daunting as people once thought. A lot could change between now and April, but at the moment, it’s looking like the West will be nine teams fighting for eight playoff spots (assuming the Thunder inevitably right the ship) and that the LA Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and Dallas Mavericks will be the definite teams on the outside looking in.

If that holds up, then I like Utah’s chances. Between Denver struggling with injuries, OKC having a tough time figuring things out, New Orleans being a typically injury-prone squad and a volatile one given their roster, I could easily see one of those teams slipping and Utah continuing to take advantage.

Next: Watch: Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell throws down sweet alley-oop

So, yes, the daunting month of December that we’ve all heard so much about is here, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to hit the panic button. Utah has been playing great basketball of late and while there’s bound to be some hiccups over the course of the next 31 days, there’s no reason why the Jazz can’t translate that play over into the following month against heightened competition.