Utah Jazz: 3 things to monitor as schedule becomes more difficult

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Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz, Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)

Inner-conference play

This season, the Jazz have gone 17-8 against the Western Conference, and 4-2 against their own division. For comparison, last season they went 30-22 against the West and an even 8-8 against the Northwest Division.

12 of their next 14 games are against fellow Western Conference rivals, which means this upcoming stretch will be a good measuring stick for how the Jazz stack up with the West.

They are on pace to have a .68 winning percentage against the West; if they keep this pace up against the conference they will have a 49-22 record excluding the remaining games against the Eastern Conference.

Is it responsible to expect them to win two thirds of their games against the West? They’ve gotten to a 17-8 record against the West this year by facing the Timberwolves (three times), Memphis Grizzlies (three times), Sacramento Kings (three times), New Orleans Pelicans (three times), and Golden State Warriors (four times).

In other words over half of their inner-conference games this season are accounted for by teams below .500. They are yet to face the Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, and Dallas Mavericks this season, and their history of facing good teams worries me.

The Jazz have a 6-9 record versus teams above .500 this season. The victories were very encouraging, like the Bogey buzzer beater against Milwaukee and the road win against the Clippers.

But the losses against good teams this year prove the Jazz are mortal. The beat-downs from the Lakers and Raptors were a tough pill to swallow, as was the 14 point loss at home to the Thunder in December.

Which Jazz team will show up in these next 14 games? Will it be the same team that let opponents hang in the game until the very end, or will we see the rendition of the Jazz that put the pedal to the metal all four quarters versus the Pacers?

These games will be absolutely crucial if the 2-6 seeds finish within a game or two of each other. As we saw last season, the Portland Trail-Blazers won the tie breaker over the Houston Rockets to get the in 2/3 seed bracket. That tiebreaker arguably helped them get to the conference finals.

In 2017-18, the Jazz lost a tiebreaker to the Oklahoma City Thunder that would’ve given them homecourt advantage. The Jazz ended up beating the Thunder in the playoffs anyway, but you get the idea how these inner-conference and inner-division games being played now become critical in April.

That means the games against the Portland Trail-Blazers (twice) and Denver Nuggets (twice) will have extra meaning for all parties involved. The Blazers are fighting to make the playoffs, and the Nuggets and Jazz are fighting for higher playoff seed. Whoever wins the division will likely have the higher playoff seed.

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