It would have been unfathomable a few months back, but the Utah Jazz still have a legitimate shot at reaching 50 wins this season.
Back in December when the Utah Jazz just couldn’t seem to get over the hump and above .500, many fans were beginning to wonder if the team would be able to make the playoffs. Even more had absolutely shut the door on the possibility of the struggling squad becoming a top team in the West. Nevertheless, despite Utah’s poor start, they’re still in a reasonably promising place at sixth place in the Western Conference with 25 games remaining.
At 32-25, the Jazz find themselves just a game behind the fifth place Houston Rockets and two games behind the fourth place Portland Trail Blazers. With the Rockets being continually banged up this season and the Blazers facing a daunting schedule down the stretch, home court advantage is still very much in play for the Jazz who face an easier schedule than most.
In fact, though it would have been considered preposterous mere months ago, the Utah Jazz actually have a quite reasonable path to earning a 50-win season. Don’t get me wrong – it’s far from a guarantee and will be an absolute challenge. But looking at Utah’s remaining schedule, it’s completely feasible to see how they could get there.
In order to finish with 50 wins, the Jazz will need to go 18-7 the rest of the way, a winning percentage of .720. That’s a hard mark to reach, but far easier than the .828 mark the Jazz accomplished over their final 35 games a season ago by going 29-6. That was obviously a historic run, but the point is that believing them to go 18-7 is surely reasonable when compared to that streak from 2018.
That becomes even more true when looking at Utah’s schedule in the final 25 games. Let’s take a look at a game by game view to give you an idea:
- 2/22 at OKC
- 2/23 vs. DAL
- 2/27 vs. LAC
- 2/28 at DEN
- 3/2 vs. MIL
- 3/4 vs. NOP
- 3/6 at NOP
- 3/8 at MEM
- 3/11 vs. OKC
- 3/13 at PHX
- 3/14 vs. MIN
- 3/16 vs. BKN
- 3/18 at WAS
- 3/20 at NYK
- 3/21 at ATL
- 3/23 at CHI
- 3/25 vs. PHX
- 3/27 vs. LAL
- 3/29 vs. WAS
- 4/1 vs. CHA
- 4/3 at PHX
- 4/5 vs. SAC
- 4/7 at LAL
- 4/9 vs. DEN
- 4/10 at LAC
As you can see, in the final 25 games the Jazz have just five contests against teams with a better record than them – OKC twice, Denver twice and Milwaukee once. After March 2nd, they have just two such games and only five against teams currently in the playoff mix, though I would expect the LA Clippers might fall out of that bunch while the Los Angeles Lakers or Sacramento Kings might sneak in.
And with such an easy slate, you can see how it’s feasible that the Jazz could still earn 50 wins. In fact, if they were to only beat the teams with a worse record than them from now until the end of the year, they’d finish 52-30. I don’t see that happening quite frankly, as I’m sure they’ll drop a couple of those, but on the flip side, I suppose they could also surprise us and win some against teams with a better record.
In short, the Jazz are going to face some tough competition among both the teams better than them and the ones worse, particularly those teams who will be scrapping for playoff positioning. However, 18-7 is completely attainable as long as the Jazz can get into a post-All-Star Game groove as they did a year ago.
It’s not easy looking this far into the future, but here’s how I roughly foresee the final 25 games playing out, along with a brief explanation as needed. Games with an asterisk are ones I was very much on the fence on, with further details to follow below
- 2/22 at OKC – L, Both teams fresh off break, tough to win in OKC against hot Thunder team
- 2/23 vs. DAL – W, Back-to-back for both teams, Dallas horrible on the road
- 2/27 vs. LAC – W, Clippers have no incentive to win, traded away top talent at deadline
- 2/28 at DEN – L, Tough to win in Denver, especially on a back-to-back
- 3/2 vs. MIL – L*, Bucks look like an elite force
- 3/4 vs. NOP – W, Pelicans in turmoil, who knows what the status of Anthony Davis will be
- 3/6 at NOP – W, Same as above
- 3/8 at MEM – W*, Jazz should prevail over Grizzlies who have struggled since fast start
- 3/11 vs. OKC – L*, If OKC stays as hot as they were pre-break, they’ll come out on top
- 3/13 at PHX – W, It’s the Suns…
- 3/14 vs. MIN – W, Jazz match up well against underwhelming Timberwolves
- 3/16 vs. BKN – W, Brooklyn is solid, but haven’t been great on road
- 3/18 at WAS – W, The Wizards are a mess
- 3/20 at NYK – W, Next please
- 3/21 at ATL – L*, Road back-to-back against a team that has given Utah fits
- 3/23 at CHI – W, The Bulls are bad and have no incentive to win
- 3/25 vs. PHX – W, See the March 13th explanation
- 3/27 vs. LAL – W*, Jazz fare well against LeBron James at home
- 3/29 vs. WAS – W, See the March 18th explanation
- 4/1 vs. CHA – W*, Charlotte has been terrible on the road
- 4/3 at PHX – W, See the March 13th and 25th explanations
- 4/5 vs. SAC – W*, Jazz have talent advantage over Kings who struggle on road
- 4/7 at LAL – L*, Lakers likely fighting for position and LeBron will come up big
- 4/9 vs. DEN – L*, Denver is a tough matchup for the Jazz
- 4/10 at LAC – W, Clippers likely out of contention by now, traded away top talent
As you can see there, it’s a pretty believable path to 18 wins and seven losses based on my picks above. Of course, some of those Ws and Ls come with asterisks and I’ll almost assuredly have some of the others wrong as well. Let’s look at a few of those on-the-fence games real quick.
3/2 vs. MIL – The Bucks are one of the best teams in the NBA, but the Jazz have matched up well against them before. Aside from a fourth quarter collapse in the last meeting, Utah hung with them the whole way. The tables could very well turn this time around in Salt Lake City.
3/8 at MEM – The Jazz are a better team than the Grizzlies, but they struggled with them mightily earlier in the year. Memphis will also be well-rested for this one, so even with Marc Gasol no longer in their midst, this has the feel of an intimidating trap game for the Jazz.
3/11 vs. OKC – The Jazz will have the benefit of playing the Thunder at home. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that they could steal one here.
3/21 at ATL – Without a loss somewhere after March 11th, I would have had the Jazz winning 13 straight, which I just don’t see as realistic. This seems as plausible as a loss as any on the second night of a back-to-back against a Hawks team that has been a thorn in Utah’s side. Then again, this is a sure-fire lottery team with much more youth than talent, so one would hope the Jazz could overcome my pessimism and get it done.
3/27 vs. LAL – I like Utah’s chances, but don’t sleep on LeBron as he aims to push the currently 10th-seeded Lakers into the playoffs.
4/1 vs. CHA – The Jazz have struggled against Kemba Walker and the Hornets in years past. Especially if Charlotte is still fighting for playoff positioning, don’t expect this to be an easy one.
4/5 vs. SAC – The Kings have proven to be a surprisingly dangerous team this year. And if the playoffs are still within reach, they’re going to come out swinging.
4/7 at LAL – The Lakers will likely be highly motivated to win this one as they jockey for a playoff spot, but even with James they’ve had their fair share of struggles this season, so it’s entirely reasonable to believe the Jazz will actually come out on top.
4/9 vs. DEN – Denver has proven to be the better regular season team this year, but if their playoff seed is set, they could very well be resting players at this point. Even if such isn’t the case, Utah beat them at home last time around and certainly could do so again especially considering that the Nuggets are pretty mediocre on the road.
So not only do the Jazz have a great shot at winning 18 of their final 25 games, but five predicted losses have a great chance at swinging the other way as compared to four predicted wins. That stretch from April 5th until the end of the season could very well turn out to be especially decisive, but winning two of the four is very much doable.
Of course, I don’t claim to have anything close to a crystal ball, but after this breakdown, hopefully you’re getting the picture – a 50 win season is very much within the Jazz’s reach. And while I may regret going out on this limb by the time the 2018-19 regular season has concluded, I believe they’re ultimately going to get there.