I’m not usually the type to dismiss a team with this much time left to go, however, with 18 games left in the 2015-16 regular season, the Utah Jazz will not make the NBA playoffs, in my opinion!
If the Jazz were to make the playoffs, it would more than likely involve the Houston Rockets(currently 8th in the West) or the Dallas Mavericks(currently 7th in the West) missing the playoffs. Portland(currently 6th in West) owns the tie-breaker over Utah and pending a really bad stretch to the end of the season, where at worst, the Blazers go 8-9 to end the season. That would give Portland a 42-40 record, while the Jazz would have to play out of their heads, just to win 42 games. Remember the Memphis Grizzlies, who were supposed to drop in the western conference standings?! Memphis remains in the 5th position and now 9 games in front of the Jazz.
Why won’t the Jazz make the playoffs?!… Well, simply put, with 18 games left to go on the Jazz slate, I can’t say I see them winning more than 11-12 games to close out the season. That adds up to 40-42 or 41-41 on the season. In the Eastern Conference, that probably won’t get you into the postseason, let alone the Western Conference. But, let’s be honest, the East isn’t necessarily the “weaker conference” this season. If the season ended today and the top 16 NBA teams made the playoffs, as opposed to the traditional eight teams from the eastern and western conference, the East would have nine representatives and the Rockets, out of the West, would miss out on a playoff berth. The West may have the top two teams in the NBA, but the depth, belongs to the East.
Here are a couple scenarios in which the Jazz could make a push for the playoffs and also the reasons throughout that scenario, I feel the Jazz fall short in their playoff pursuit.
As I mentioned, I predict the Jazz around a 41-41 record to end the season, give or take a game. Let’s say, for arguments sake, the Jazz go 13-5 in their final 18 games(the Jazz haven’t had a stretch this season where they went 13-5). The Jazz would be 42-40 and would need the Rockets to finish 9-9, ending their season at 41-41. That 9-9 record, when looking at Houston’s schedule, seems more like a pipe dream. Houston not winning 10 games, would be almost as surprising as the Jazz going 13-5 to close out the season. Why would the Rockets going 42-40 not work?! Well, even if the Jazz are able to beat the Rockets in Houston on March 25th, which would even the season series at 2 games a piece, the Jazz would currently lose in the next tie-breaker scenario, which is conference record. The Jazz trail the Rockets in conference record, by 4 ½ games. Not impossible to come back from, but this late in the season, unfair to expect a team to make up such ground and this is why…
The Jazz have 22 losses, in conference, while the Rockets have 19… In order for Utah to win this tie-breaker scenario with Houston, the Jazz would have to finish out the rest of their Western Conference schedule, probably no worse than 11-3, including a victory over Houston on 3/23. That would elevate their conference record to 27-25, giving the Jazz a chance. However, the Rockets, who are 22-19, in conference, would then have to go 4-7 vs. the remainder of their scheduled games vs. the West, just for the Jazz to win the tie-breaker. I see Houston going 5-6 (that’s a worst-case scenario) in the final 11 games vs. the West. With teams like the Timberwolves(twice), Lakers, Kings and Suns, you’d be hard pressed to find more than one loss from those five games. Even if Houston does lose one of those 5 games, the Rockets would then have to proceed to lose the other remaining western conference match-ups, (including the game vs. the Utah Jazz) to end up with 26 losses, in conference. That would spot the Jazz a game, but that means on their way to a 27-25 western conference record, the Jazz would need a 1-3 record vs. these teams: at Okahoma City on 3/24; vs. Golden State on 3/30; vs. San Antonio on 4/5; vs. Los Angeles Clippers on 4/8. Seems like the Jazz could pull off one win out of those four teams, right?! Sure! They could do that. However, that means the Jazz would have to go undefeated against the rest of the western conference teams on their schedule. That doesn’t seem so easy when you look at the remaining western conference games for the Jazz. Again, this is just to win the second tie-breaker, with the assumption that the Jazz beat the Rockets, in Houston, later this month, to force the second tie-breaker, which isn’t even a great assumption at this point.
Some food for thought… if the Jazz and Rockets ended up tying in the second tie-breaker, a third tie-breaker scenario, which is Winning % vs. Playoff teams in your own conference, would be in effect. Pending major collapse by the Rockets and a major rise from the Jazz in this department, Houston wins that tie-breaker rather easily.
So, it comes down to this: have a better record than Houston, or it’s trouble in tie-breaker land.
That is why the Utah Jazz is in a tough position right now! Unless Houston has the bottom totally fall out from under them, the Jazz will fall short in scenario #1. Even, if Houston ends up going 8-10 or 9-9 to close out the regular season, do you really think the Jazz will go 13-5?! It could happen, but as I go through the schedule, there was just no body of work to go on, to go ahead and give the Utah Jazz that type of winning % to close out the season.
In all honesty, the Jazz’ best chance is to hope the Dallas Mavericks fall to the 8th spot in the West, which isn’t far fetched, being they’re only a half game up on Houston.
Dallas still presents challenges for Utah. Say the two teams ended up with the same record, Utah would need to have won the match-up on April 11th vs. the Mavs. If the Jazz did so, then Utah would win the tie-breaker. If the Jazz lose to Dallas, Utah would then need to finish one game better than Dallas. The Mavericks have a pretty tough close to their season, but let’s say, based on how they’ve played lately(losers of 4 straight), the Mavs finish 8-9 to end their regular season campaign and the Jazz go 11-7. Dallas would still make the playoffs. That still leaves little room for error with the Utah Jazz in this scenario, but unlike the Houston Rockets scenario, at least the Jazz wouldn’t need to win as many games to make it to the postseason. It would most likely take 12 wins to ensure a spot over Dallas, but going 11-7 and having the Mavs finish 7-10, would mean the tie-breaker is in effect. It’s not crazy to think, but I still believe that’s too much pressure to put on a team like the Jazz, with no real playoff experience. Dallas might be an old team, but that is a team that has a ton of playoff experience, that could prove to be useful in playoff push. That’s why, even in scenario #2, though the percentages are higher, I still think the Jazz fall short. This Utah Jazz team will have to wait one more year, before they’re mentioned in NBA playoff talk.
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