Friday, September 19, 2008

Flashback Friday: First 20 games of previous seasons

As the trees change colors and all the snotty kids begin to learn their locker combinations at school the seasonal dynamics take another turn -- a turn towards the return of the NBA. Before you know it, it'll be opening night. The NBA schedule makers usually have to give the Jazz the short end of the stick (because our owner doesn't fancy home games on Sunday), and our last month of the season (April) the last few seasons have been absolutely brutal. That said, the Jazz usually start off strong in the first handful of games before taking a mid-season nose dive in December.

Stockton and Malone's last stand In the 2002-2003 season Utah went 12-8 in the first 20 games of the season. Some of the boxscores were just flat out nutty on that team. For example, the first game of the season (a 100-75 loss to the New Orleans Hornets) had Malone lead the team with 20 points, had Mark Jackson lead the team in rebounds with 7, and Malone and Stockton led the team with assists with only 4 each. Malone led the team in scoring 11 times, Kirilenko 3 times, Harpring 4 times, Stockton 2 times and Ostertag 1 time. (The next few games were even crazier, including increasingly less scoring from Malone, and more from Kirilenko and Harpring, who would lead the scoring for the Jazz in 9 of the next 10 games.) Clearly it was a season of transition. By the start of January Malone had broken 30 points in a game once, and Harpring and Kirilenko did it a combined three times. That team finished the season 47 - 35 and was bounced from the playoffs in the first round by Sacramento in 5, Stockton and Malone's last game together.
Karl left for LA this season, but he did teach Andrei some things in the time they shared together The next season (2003-2004) was the first season without John Stockton on our team since the early 80's. The Jazz started the season 11-9 and were led by the likes of Arroyo, Kirilenko, Harpring, Stevenson, Bell and Lopez. A mid-season trade for Gordan Giricek proved to be a smart move immediately as he helped the team with his scoring (24 points in a win against Detroit, 21 points in a win against the Lakers, 33 points in a win against Phoenix on the road, 25 in a loss to the Raptors, 19 in a win against New Orleans, 22 in a loss to the Spurs, 25 in a win against Memphis and 23 in a win against Houston -- all in the last two months of the season) on the way to a 42-40 final record. The Jazz barely missed the playoffs and this special shooting guard seemed to be a big part of that. (I wonder what happened to this guy who could go off for 20+ points on any given night?) Andrei was an All-Star this season, if I remember correctly.
Carlos Boozer's first few seasons in Utah were a bit East/West, and not North/South in terms of progression That off season the Jazz front office had a free agent coup by signing Carlos Boozer (FA), and Mehmet Okur (RFA) to big money deals. The results of the first 20 games of 2004-2005 speak for themselves though: the Jazz went 9-11. This was the first time they were below .500 to start the season in quite a long time. The future looked bright for the Jazz as Boozer was scoring quite a bit (27 in the 1st game of the season, and win against the Lakers; quickly followed by games of 30, 34, 27, 25, 27, 36, 29 and so on) and Andrei was doing his all around thing . . . but both went down and did not finish the season. The Jazz finished with a 26-56 record, and a date with the ping-pong balls.
Okur became a 19-9 man for the Jazz

The very next season Carlos Boozer got injured in the pre-season and the 2005-2006 season was beginning to look a lot like Deja Vu for Jazz fans. Utah limped to a 8-12 record to start the season, some wins relying on Matt Harpring scoring 30 points and Jarron Collins getting 10 boards. Utah finished the season 41-41, just baring missing the playoffs again! This season finished with the starting lineup of Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko (at the 2), Matt Harpring, Mehmet Okur (at the 4) and Carlos Boozer (at the 5). For those who forgot, the Jazz won 7 of their last 10 games (2 of those losses were to the Spurs though).

Deron Williams showed everyone why he was picked ahead of Chris Paul this season Utah finally makes the playoffs in 2006-2007, winning the Northwest Division title and breaks 50 wins in a season for the first time in what seems like eternity. The Jazz go 51-31 off of some strong performances by Boozer, Okur and Williams, after an amazing 15-5 start! Everyone was finally healthy and a 2nd year Deron Williams powered the team as Memo and Booz were honored to be part of the Western Conference All-Star team.
Utah 2 - Denver 0 Last season (2007-2008) the Jazz improved on their win total and end the season with a 54-28 record. How did they start? They started the season 13-7 -- which is less than the previous season, but they ended up winning more games. They ended up trading Gordan Giricek for Kyle Korver and won their 2nd straight Northwest Division title (sorry AI and the rest of the Denver Media Hype Bandwagon).

Here is a recap of the past 6 seasons:

Season 1st 20 games Season Record Playoffs? Won Division?
2002-2003 12-8 47-35 Yes  
2003-2004 11-9 42-40    
2004-2005 9-11 26-56    
2005-2006 8-12 41-41    
2006-2007 15-5 51-31 Yes Yes
2007-2008 13-7 54-28 Yes Yes

So we can clearly see that starting off well is very important to the Jazz actually making the playoffs. Every season where we've won at least 12 of the first 20 games has us making the playoffs and being close to a 50 win team. It's probably something to watch then as winning games early and making the playoffs seem to share some common factors, if not are correlated to one another.

What do our first 20 games look like this season?

Game vs.   Game vs.  
1 Denver 1-0 11 Phoenix 8-3
2 LA Clippers 2-0 12 Milwaukee 9-3
3 @ LA Clippers 3-0 13 @ San Antonio 9-4
4 Portland 4-0 14 @ Memphis 10-4
5 Oklahoma City 5-0 15 Chicago 11-4
6 @ NY Knicks 6-0 16 Memphis 12-4
7 @ Philadelphia 6-1 17 Sacramento 13-4
8 @ Washington 7-1 18 New Jersey 14-4
9 @ Charlotte 8-1 19 @ Sacramento 14-5
10 @ Cleveland 8-2 20 Miami 15-5

Sure, that's with the homer hat on, but I think that we will finally beat the Knicks in NY, and drop games against the Cavs on the road, and against the Suns, Spurs and Kings (in Sactown). This may be a conservative estimate, but after the first 20 games we very well should have around 15 wins!