How many wins do the Utah Jazz need to finish top three in the West?

Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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If the Utah Jazz want to earn a top-three seed in the deep Western Conference, how many wins are they going to have to come up with in 2018-19?

Lately the Utah Jazz hype train has been rolling full force. Several national media members have pinned them to finish near the top of the Western Conference. While that may come as a surprise to some considering how deep the West is and the fact that the Jazz were one of the few teams to not make many offseason moves, those expectations are completely justified.

Between internal growth, continuity from last season where the Jazz closed the year out as one of the hottest teams in the league, and an incredible chemistry, it’s completely realistic to expect the Jazz to be a force this upcoming year.

But if they truly are to finish in the top three of the Western Conference, as many media members have pinned them (others have them as high as the second seed), how many wins will they have to earn? Last year, the Jazz were the fifth seed with 48 wins, and the year before 51 wins was enough to earn that same spot.

But what about the three seed? Where has the team in that spot finished the last few years in terms of number of wins? Let’s take a look,-sho shall we?

  • 2017-18 Portland Trail Blazers – 49 wins
  • 2016-17 Houston Rockets – 55 wins
  • 2015-16 Oklahoma City Thunder – 55 wins
  • 2014-15 LA Clippers – 56 wins
  • 2013-14 LA Clippers – 57 wins
  • 2012-13 Denver Nuggets – 57 wins
  • 2011-12 *Lockout Season* Los Angeles Lakers – 41 wins
  • 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks – 57 wins
  • 2009-2010 Phoenix Suns – 54 wins
  • 2008-2009 San Antonio 54 wins

Excluding the lockout-shortened season of 2011-12, the year that most stands out to me of this bunch is actually the most recent 2017-18 season, where the Blazers were able to nab the three-seed with a mere 49 wins. Beyond that, teams consistently have needed at least 55 wins, with 54 earning the mark nine and ten years ago.

The reason why 49 wins was enough to earn the three-spot last season was because it was one of the most top-heavy and tightly-contested Western Conferences that we’ve ever witnessed. Seeds three through eight were separated by a mere two games with each of the fourth, fifth and sixth seeds finishing with an identical 48-34 record.

Those are some pretty unusual circumstances. However, while I don’t see that exact thing happening again in 2018-19, per se, I could definitely see the West being similarly competitive, and with the Golden State Warriors dominating the league, probably similarly as top heavy.

Therefore, while reaching the three-seed will be a challenge, I don’t think it’s going to take 57 wins as it has in years past as the middle West teams will likely spend all season beating one another up. However, as recent years have shown us, I also think the Blazers sneaking into that spot with a mere 49 wins was quite the anomaly. I wouldn’t bank on a sub-50 win season earning the three-seed this upcoming year.

Based on the nature of the Western Conference this season, I’m guessing that if the Jazz want to separate themselves from the rest of the mid-tier teams and earn a top-three seed, they’ll need to win at least 52 games this upcoming season. Fortunately, in a recent article I did with various models projecting Utah’s record, I had them between 49 and 55 wins, with my ultimate projection being 53 wins.

If they reach that mark, I’m extremely confident that they’ll be able to indeed finish in third place in the Wild, Wild Western Conference. It would also be the best record they’ve posted since the 2009-10 season when they likewise earned 53 wins, which in that year was good enough for the fifth seed.

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The start of preseason is less than a month away, and the start of the regular season will shortly follow. Securing a top seed in the West will be Utah’s top goal, which should make for an incredible 2018-19 campaign.

I can hardly wait to see how it all unfolds.