The Utah Jazz have put themselves in an ideal and realistic situation to move into second place in the West in the near future if they continue their hot streak.
It was easy to be discouraged with the way the Utah Jazz started the season considering that by and large their performance simply didn’t match up with the preseason hype that had followed them. Sure, their record through the first quarter of the season was the best it’s been in the Quin Snyder era, but the way the Jazz were playing didn’t produce much confidence in terms of their cohesion, fit or proficiency with one another.
But what a difference the last few games have made. Suddenly, a once middle-of-the-road Jazz team is starting to look like they could very well be a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference. After defeating the Orlando Magic on the road on Saturday thanks to a dominant fourth quarter performance, the Jazz are riding a five-game win streak and have won 10 of their last 11.
Utah’s hot play coupled with the recent slide of the Dallas Mavericks which has seen them drop three of their last four games has allowed the Jazz to surpass them in the standings and move into fifth place.
However, there’s a very significant chance that the Jazz could be far from done with their climb.
As of this writing, the Utah Jazz sit just one game back of each of the second, third and fourth-place teams ahead of them in the standings – the Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets and LA Clippers, respectively. In other words, Utah is very much within striking distance and if they can maintain their solid play while each of those teams potentially drops a game or two, the Jazz could quickly find themselves sitting at second place in the blink of an eye.
Now, it should be noted that the LA Clippers take on the New York Knicks on Sunday, so there’s a good chance they’ll find themselves back in second with a 1.5-game lead over the Jazz and a 0.5-game lead over the others by the end of the night, but even that is still a narrow lead. Considering that the Clippers are coming off a blowout loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, it’s fair to question where their heads are at currently in regards to the regular season, and it’s completely fathomable that Utah could catch and surpass them in the standings.
But even more encouraging for the Jazz is the fact that their easy schedule isn’t about to get more difficult any time soon. They have one more game on their current road trip on Monday which could be difficult as they’ll visit an improved New Orleans team, but overall, their upcoming slate is quite favorable:
- 1/6 at Pelicans
- 1/8 vs. Knicks
- 1/10 vs. Hornets
- 1/12 at Wizards
- 1/14 at Nets
- 1/16 at Pelicans
- 1/18 vs. Kings
Meanwhile, during that same stretch of time, the Jazz’s opponents in the 2-4 spots will play some tough current playoff opponents. The Clippers will have to play the Denver Nuggets and Orlando Magic, the Houston Rockets play the Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, and the Denver Nuggets will face the Dallas Mavericks, LA Clippers and Indiana Pacers.
In other words, it is very reasonable to predict each of those teams dropping at least one or two contests during the upcoming two-week stretch, whereas if the Jazz keep playing as well as they have been, they very well could win seven more in a row.
Of course, in the NBA upsets happen nightly and it’s certainly very common for a good team to have a bad outing. We’ve seen the Jazz fall victim to that several times this year, so it’s not necessarily fair to expect them to remain perfect in their next seven games on top of the five straight they’ve currently won.
But, regardless, based on the climb they’ve made thus far, the favorable position they’re currently in and how much easier their schedule is than that of their closest opponents, there’s no denying that the Jazz are finally well within striking distance of a top seed. If all goes well over the next two weeks, they could very well be in second place by that point.
The challenge from there would be maintaining that spot. From January 20th on to the All-Star break, the Jazz have a far more difficult schedule. The Western Conference Standings have been a carousel of ever-changing positions, so the Jazz will have to not just dominate bad teams, but prove they can hang with the league’s elite if they are to truly find themselves in a top-three spot come season’s end.
Many Jazz fans, myself included, have stressed the importance of the Jazz earning a top seed heading into the postseason, so it’s nice to see them finally with a reasonable road to climbing back from a so-so start and moving into an ideal position.