Despite a key injury, the Utah Jazz should secure the regular-season crown.
By losing at the Boston Celtics on Thursday, the Phoenix Suns gifted the Utah Jazz a bit more cushion to their No. 1 position in the Western Conference standings. Add in the fact these Jazzmen now own a five-game advantage in the loss column over the top two Eastern Conference powers in the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers.
True, a great number of folks, including a fair share of scarred-by-the-past Utahns, continue to dismiss this dominance coming out of Salt Lake City as just a “fluky” occurrence. They typically cite the relatively low number of Jazz injuries plus the relatively convenient timing when it comes to facing foes with depleted active rosters.
Yet fluke or not, given all of the above records alone, it still seems safe to say at this late juncture that Utah is the favorite to earn the top overall seed in the playoffs and thereby own homecourt advantage for as long as it manages to survive. That advantage would be significant, of course, considering the team’s 26-3 home record up to this point, which dwarfs all others.
Furthermore, let’s highlight the smoothness of the Jazz’s remaining path — easier than all but three others across the entire league — in comparison to what their two conceivable threats for the top seed in the West are set to face from here on out:
- Utah Jazz (44-15): 13 games remaining, including three games versus teams currently above .500 and seven games at home
- Phoenix Suns (42-17): 13 games remaining, including eight games versus teams currently above .500 and four games at home
- Los Angeles Clippers (43-19): 10 games remaining, including four games versus teams currently above .500 and four games at home
Also worth noting, the Jazz and Suns will play each other one more time (Suns lead, 2-0), and the same goes for the Clippers and Suns (Clippers lead, 2-0); meanwhile, the Jazz and Clippers won’t meet again in the regular season (Jazz won that series, 2-1).
Extreme computer-generated confidence in the Utah Jazz finishing the job
Entering Utah’s home matchup against the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves (16-44) at 7 p.m. MT Saturday, Basketball Reference gives the Jazz a 94.7 percent chance of ending the regular season atop the West and zero chance of earning lower than the No. 3 seed.
Projected overall record? 54-18.
The site, which outputs these probabilities and predictions via 10,000 simulations of the remaining season, also skips ahead even further in time…
It tabs Utah with a 51.8 percent chance of reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 1998. As for winning the whole shebang for the first time in franchise history, try 40.8 percent, which is more than 25 percentage points higher than any other.
Sir Charles sure appears to subscribe to Utah Jazz hype:
But as tempting as it may be to daydream about midsummer confetti, Jazz fans shouldn’t plan July celebrations just yet. After all, 1) computers don’t actually play the games, 2) Charles Barkley is wrong quite often, and 3) there’s still no word as to when Donovan Mitchell will return from his right ankle sprain, only that it won’t happen this weekend.
So for now, Utah Jazz enthusiasts — even the group’s naysayers — ought to stick with finding joy in the regular-season race, relishing this campaign for what it has been pretty much every step of the way: all-around jazzy excellence.