Utah Jazz may get off to tough start, but should finish ’18-19 on fire

SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 3: Donovan Mitchell #45 and Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz talk during the game against the Sacramento Kings on March 3, 2018 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 3: Donovan Mitchell #45 and Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz talk during the game against the Sacramento Kings on March 3, 2018 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Utah Jazz face a daunting schedule in the early part of the 2018-19 season, but should be able to make up for it with a strong finish.

Part of the reason why the 2017-18 Utah Jazz season was so incredible was because the Jazz went from what appeared to be a sure-fire lottery team at 19-28 in mid-January to one of the more dominant teams in the West in what seemed like the blink of an eye.

After a rocky start that was the product of challenges adjusting to new faces, injuries and one of the most brutal early stretches of schedule I’ve ever witnessed, Utah eventually clicked then went on to thrive from there, going as far as the second round of the playoffs. Not bad for a team that many presumed may not even surpass the .500 mark.

Since the Jazz front office opted to stick with continuity when dealing with the team this offseason, last year’s early-season issues with cohesion shouldn’t be much of a problem at all and it’s completely realistic to expect that by picking up where they left off, the 2018-19 Jazz should be even better than last year’s version. However, after viewing this upcoming season’s schedule, which was officially released on Friday, it’s plausible that the Jazz could experience a similar trend as they did in ’17-18. Namely, a tough start leading up to an incredible finish.

Yes, the Jazz will be much-improved compared to last season, so when I say a tough start, I don’t mean a ‘nine games below .500’ tough start, at least I certainly hope not. But the first part of their schedule, much like last year, is extremely difficult.

The Jazz will play 16 of their first 24 games on the road between October 17 and December 2. Remember how December was the killer month last year? Well it’s no slouch again this year, but November is the true ringer in 2018-19. Get it out of the way early, I guess, right?

November features a grueling five-game road trip that includes bouts against the Memphis Grizzlies, who figure to be much-improved, the Dallas Mavericks, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Boston Celtics and the Indiana Pacers. The contest against Boston is on the second night of a back-to-back because, of course. We can’t make it too easy for the Jazz to stomp Gordon Hayward and Co., right?

Some of Utah’s other November opponents include the Denver Nuggets, who figure to be a tough out this season, the Kawhi Leonard-led Toronto Raptors, the Boston Celtics at home (both bouts against Hayward will be in November, just over a week apart), the Los Angeles Lakers with LeBron James, and the Indiana Pacers at home (a week after the aforementioned road contest in Indy).

Those are going to be some tough battles, without a doubt. And the brief month of October is no pushover either. The Jazz will take on both the Golden State Warriors (home opener) and the Houston Rockets within their first four games of the season. That Rockets game comes as the first contest of a four-game October road trip that follows with the New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves. Gulp.

And then there’s December, where the Jazz will play the San Antonio Spurs twice, the Houston Rockets twice, the Oklahoma City Thunder twice (both times on the second night of a back-to-back, no less), the Portland Trail Blazers twice including the Christmas Game, the Golden State Warriors and the Philadelphia 76ers. To top it all off, it’s also the month where the Jazz will head to Mexico City to face the Orlando Magic adding an excruciating amount of travel. Sheesh!

I know what you’re probably thinking. “Geez! With all those tough games in October through December, who will the Jazz play after the turn of the calendar year, teams from local high schools?”

Luckily, your sarcasm wouldn’t be too far off the mark.

While of course there will be difficult contests and situations all throughout the long 2018-19 season, things do ease up considerably in January as the Jazz will benefit from a couple lengthy home stands. February gets a little tougher, but then check out how the Jazz will close out the season via the tweet below from KSL’s Ben Anderson–

That is an extremely favorable stretch that features a number of projected lottery teams, and even the solid teams don’t figure to be as daunting as the Utah Jazz next year. If Utah can just survive the first part of the season, particularly a grueling November, and get to January with a record slightly above .500, they could be in an ideal spot to cruise up the standings down the stretch.

But after going through that part of the schedule, my main piece of advice for Jazz fans would be to keep calm and to not worry if the first part of the season has some discouraging moments. The Jazz face a daunting schedule in the early parts of the season, and if Utah gets off to somewhat of a slow start due to all the road games and tough competition, Jazz fans shouldn’t panic.

Sure, the haters will come out in droves claiming how overrated the Jazz were and what a joke it was for them to be so highly touted this offseason. But those folks would do well to remember that it’s a long 82-game season for a reason. If the Jazz bounced back last season, I’m certain they’ll be able to do so once again to an even higher degree this time around as they figure to get off to a better start despite the heightened competition, and close out the year even better as well.

And in some respects, it’s actually really good that the Jazz get to play the hardest part of their schedule at the beginning of the year. While some teams may struggle to adjust to one another and any new faces they’ve added, the Jazz should be able to get out of the gates extremely quickly due to their continuity from last year.

With that being the case, the Jazz may find themselves a step ahead of their opponents, and be able to thrive in the early-going of the season against otherwise stiffer competition as they’ll use their impeccable cohesion to their advantage.

Next. Utah Jazz popularity rising as nationally televised games skyrocket. dark

If the Jazz get off to a better start than I’m projecting, they’ll be in great shape to string together an incredible season. They could very well shock us and outperform expectations even during their tough early stretch of schedule.

But even if things do get off to a rocky start, don’t forget that it’s a long season, and with a favorable closing stretch, the Jazz are primed to finish out 2018-19 extremely strong.