Prediction: Utah Jazz will need to finish year 20-12 to make playoffs

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - JANUARY 30: Ricky Rubio #3 and teammate Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz are greeted near the end of a of a game they won 129-99 over the Golden State Warriors at Vivint Smart Home Arena on January 30, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - JANUARY 30: Ricky Rubio #3 and teammate Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz are greeted near the end of a of a game they won 129-99 over the Golden State Warriors at Vivint Smart Home Arena on January 30, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images) /

Despite a slow start to the season, if the Utah Jazz can remain hot to close out the year, they may very well still be able to make the playoffs.

The Utah Jazz have gotten our hopes up before. So as exciting as last night’s mind-blowing 30-point win over the Golden State Warriors was, it wouldn’t be wise for fans to get too excited just yet about what the rest of the season is going to look like for the Jazz. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that based on how they’ve played the last three games, there’s certainly reason for optimism.

That optimism is even more founded when looking at the teams sitting just ahead of Utah in the standings. The LA Clippers just traded Blake Griffin away and are clearly in overhaul mode. The playoffs are no longer their goal this season. The Denver Nuggets have been relatively cold of late and are still awaiting Paul Millsap’s return. Finally, the New Orleans Pelicans just lost DeMarcus Cousins for the rest of the season to injury and have since lost two straight.

Therefore, even though the Jazz sit at a less than favorable 22-28 record, their playoff hopes are still very much a possibility. However, despite Utah’s recent surge and the struggles of the trio of teams ahead of them, they’ve dug themselves a big hole and it will be no easy task for them to climb their way out.

In fact, it’s entirely reasonable to expect that for them to qualify for postseason action, they’ll need to finish the year out with a 42-40 record, which would require them to go 20-12 (.625) for the rest of the season.

That’s going to be a tough mark to reach, especially for a team that’s boasted a win percentage of just .440 thus far. But, especially if Utah is somehow able to maintain the solid play that they’ve posted over the last three games, it may very well be in reach. To see how it could be possible, I’ve decided to put together an exercise that both myself and fellow J-Noter John Keeffer have done at certain points throughout the season – break down the Jazz’s remaining schedule and attempt to project wins or losses.

Below is the schedule they have ahead as well as my prediction of how the game will pan out. A “W” means a likely win, an “L” means a likely loss and a “T” means a toss-up.

  • 2/2 at Phoenix – W (this feels risky as Utah has had letdowns after big home wins, but the Suns should still be an easy opponent)
  • 2/3 at San Antonio – L (It’s never easy to win in San Antonio)
  • 2/5 at New Orleans – W (Pelicans struggling without Boogie, can Jazz capitalize on the road?)
  • 2/7 at Memphis – W (Grizzlies have been bad, Jazz should be able to pull out win on the road)
  • 2/9 vs. Charlotte – T (Inferior team, but Utah has really struggled against Charlotte in recent years)
  • 2/11 at Portland – L (Tough place to win, even tougher for a Jazz team that’s been bad on the road)
  • 2/12 vs. San Antonio – L (This game is winnable, but it’s on back end of a back-to-back and it is San Antonio after all…)
  • 2/14 vs. Phoenix – W (Again, Phoenix is bad)
  • 2/23 vs. Portland – T (This will be a tough one, no doubt)
  • 2/24 vs. Dallas – T (Back end of back-to-back could make this one scary)
  • 2/26 vs. Houston – L (Houston is a fantastic team)
  • 3/2 vs. Minnesota – T (This one will be tough, depends which version of the Jazz comes to play)
  • 3/3 at Sacramento – W (Jazz recently killed the Kings on the road)
  • 3/5 vs. Orlando – W (The Magic have struggled big time this year)
  • 3/7 at Indiana – T (The Pacers just killed the Jazz and may very well do so again on their home court, but they’ve had their own issues with consistency)
  • 3/9 at Memphis – W (Road game aside, I think Jazz pull this one out)
  • 3/11 at New Orleans – W (Will New Orleans still be struggling at this point without Boogie? Should be a win if so)
  • 3/13 vs. Detroit – W (Blake Griffin trade aside, Jazz have matched up well against Detroit and should get this one at home
  • 3/15 vs. Phoenix – W (Did I mention Phoenix is bad?)
  • 3/17 vs. Sacramento – W (Did I mention Sacramento is worse?)
  • 3/20 vs. Atlanta – W (Atlanta just smacked the Jazz at home, but they’re 4-20 on the road)
  • 3/22 at Dallas – W (Dallas can be a tough out despite their record, but I think Utah gets this one)
  • 3/23 at San Antonio – L (Back-to-back? Check. On the road? Check. Against San Antonio? Check. That’s three bad signs…)
  • 3/25 at Golden State – L (Last night was fun. The chances of it repeating at Oracle? Not good)
  • 3/28 vs. Boston – T (Can the Jazz get their revenge against Gordon Hayward’s new squad again?)
  • 3/30 vs. Memphis – W (Jazz should be able to get this one)
  • 4/1 at Minnesota – L (This one’s winnable, but will be a tough one)
  • 4/3 vs. Los Angeles Lakers – W (Yep, the Lakers are still bad)
  • 4/5 vs. LA Clippers – W (Clippers may have an ugly end to the season)
  • 4/8 at Los Angeles Lakers – W (Different court, same bad team)
  • 4/10 vs. Golden State – L (Can Jazz do it again? I’m not banking on it. Although GSW could be resting players by this point and Jazz won a similar contest last year)
  • 4/11 at Portland – T (There could be a lot at stake here or nothing at all. Either way, this is a hard one to call until we know the situations)

So with all that adding up, I have Utah at 17 wins, eight losses and seven toss-ups. That’s a little scary as the Jazz would have to win three of the seven toss-ups in order to get home, but like I said, this isn’t going to be easy. Not to mention, I was also pretty lenient on some of my W’s. In fact, in the four-game road trip that Utah begins this week, I have them winning three of the four.

Sure, they’ve won their past two road games, but they have a long way to go to prove they can be competitive away from home. If they revert back to how they’ve played for most of the season and have a bad road trip this week, these hopes could be dashed very quickly.

However, while I fully recognize that their playoff chances are still pretty bleak, this exercise proves that there is a chance. Above all, their schedule is much easier for the final two-plus months of the season as it includes some nice home stands and weaker opponents. If the Jazz are able to capitalize on that, maintain their recent play from the past three games and get a little lucky with some more upset wins, then 20-12 could be perfectly doable to close out the year.

The other variable in all this is the trade deadline which could very well change the make-up of the Jazz as well as other teams they’re doing battle against to close out the year. Whatever ends up happening, it’s going to be fascinating to see how Utah closes out the season and if they’re able to get hot enough to earn that final playoff spot.

If they do so and continue to only improve from here, last night was an indication that a first-round series against the Golden State Warriors may be more entertaining than we all thought. And bouncing back to make the postseason after a poor start to the year would be an awesome springboard for the 2018-19 season.

Next: Utah Jazz-GSW: Salt Lake City’s #nightlife is winning basketball

No matter how you look at it, we should be in for a fun conclusion to the year.