The Utah Jazz finished February with their best record in franchise history: 10-1. It was a spectacular month filled with victories over the likes of the LA Lakers, Boston Celtics, New Orleans Hornets and playoff teams from both conferences. As good as February was, January was a travesty where the Jazz limped to a 7-8 record. There are only 23 games left in the regular schedule -- and only 23 games left for the Jazz to make any solid moves up in the standings. March sees the Jazz playing in 15 games, and April has the Jazz playing in 8 regular season games. They are on the road 14 times, and at home only 9 times.
The major problem I can see, when looking over the schedule, is that fatigue is really going to set in late. Hopefully this is the case with all of the teams in the running for the playoffs -- but the Jazz have a particularly tough task. First of all, there's another extended Eastern Conference road trip that needs to happen, one that will span 8 days, and have the Jazz playing 5 times. (we already know how poor the Jazz are on the road, and how poor they are against the East . . .) The Jazz will face off against Toronto, Indiana, Atlanta, Miami and Orlando. The games against Atlanta and Orlando are both the 2nd night of back to back sets; furthermore, the game against Atlanta would be the 3rd game in 4 nights. If the Jazz win three out of those five games I'll be bouncing off the walls.
The second, and perhaps larger, problem is the cumulative effect of all of these games. The Jazz play 8 back to back sets still. (15 of our last 23 games are either the first or second game of a back to back set, or 70%) If that was not enough, 9 of these last 23 games will be the 3rd game in 4 nights for the Jazz. (@ Atlanta, vs. Washington, @ Portland, @ Denver, vs. Minnesota, @ New Orleans, vs. Golden State, vs. LA Clippers, @ LA Lakers) Do any of those look like important games to win? I see a few there.
The largest obstacle will be around the end of March and the beginning of April where the Jazz will play Houston at home, then the next night fly to Phoenix to take on the Suns. Two days later the Jazz face the Suns at home. I don't know the exact injury situation with Phoenix, but as far as I can tell, they will either be in full tank mode, or swing for the fences mode. The next week the Jazz will face the Knicks at home, then fly the next night to play the Blazers -- one of the previously mentioned 3rd game in 4 nights sets. This will be the last game of March, and it goes all downhill from there. The Jazz then fly over to Denver to play the first game of a back to back set, which is also the 3rd game in 4 nights, and yes, the 5th game in 6 nights. How often do you get the 5th game in 7 nights? Very rarely, but only when you play a game the very next night, at home against Minnesota, that's the second night of a back to back, and ultimately, the 6th game in 7 nights. Yes, this is how the Jazz start off April -- playing 6 times in a week, with one of our last remaining 'gimmie' games at home against a non-playoff team being scheduled at the worst possible time. [EDIT: This is incorrect, the Jazz game vs. the Timberwolves will be the 5th game in 7 nights, not 6th in 7]
To add insult to injury, the Jazz play again, on the road in New Orleans on that Sunday, a single game that does not look too hard, but will be the 3rd game in 4 nights, and the 4th game in 6 games, 5th game in 7. The Jazz will have a needed two day rest, and then finish the last 5 games of the seasons @ Dallas, @ San Antonio, vs. Golden State (2nd game in a back to back set, 3rd game in 4 nights), vs. the LA Clippers (3rd game in 4 nights), and then on the road to face the LA Lakers (2nd night in a back to back set, 3rd game in 4 nights).
I really pray that this is the case for all teams right now, and that everyone will be equally tired to finish the season. The Jazz play against a Top 10 team in the Western Conference 13 times (out of 15 remaining Western Conference games) to finish the season. The Jazz are shaky on the road . . . hopefully Boozer will be full of energy from that mid-season holiday he took.
Just because I am insane, here it all is in chart form:
|Game||Opponent||Location||Date||Conf.||Playoff Team||Part of B2B Set?||Other:|
|March||1||Golden State||Road||March 1||West||2nd game|
|2||Houston||Home||March 4||West||Yes||Season series |
|3||Denver||Home||March 6||West||Yes||Season series |
|5||Indiana||Road||March 10||East||1st game|
|6||Atlanta||Road||March 11||East||Yes||2nd game||3rd game in 4|
|7||Miami||Road||March 14||East||Yes||1st game|
|8||Orlando||Road||March 15||East||Yes||2nd game|
|9||Washington||Home||March 17||East||3rd game in 4|
|10||Oklahoma City||Road||March 20||West|
|11||Houston||Home||March 24||West||Yes||1st game|
|12||Phoenix||Road||March 25||West||?||2nd game||Season series |
|14||New York||Home||March 30||East||1st game||Last game vs. East until Finals|
|15||Portland||Road||March 31||West||Yes||2nd game||3rd game in 4|
|April||16||Denver||Road||April 2||West||Yes||1st game||3rd game in 4 |
4th game in 6
|17||Minnesota||Home||April 3||West||2nd game||3rd game in 4 |
4th game in 5
5th game in 7
|18||New Orleans||Road||April 5||West||Yes||3rd game in 4 |
4th game in 6
5th game in 7
|20||San Antonio||Road||April 10||West||Yes||1st game|
|21||Golden State||Home||April 11||West||2nd game||3rd game in 4|
|22||LA Clippers||Home||April 13||West||1st game||3rd game in 4|
|23||LA Lakers||Road||April 14||West||Yes||2nd game||3rd game in 4 |
4th game in 5
The Jazz are currently sitting at 36-23, and need 14 games to win 50 for the season. ESPN.com predicted that the Jazz would win 51 games -- a number that I thought was ridiculously low back in Pre-Season. I was so bold as to suggest that the Jazz would finish the season (including playoffs) with 65 wins this year. The last two seasons the Jazz won 60 games total (2006-2007: 51 regular season, 9 playoffs; 2007-2008: 54 regular season, 6 playoffs) -- so I felt like a 5 game improvement wouldn't be that far out of the realm of possibility. For my statement to be true (65 wins), and let's assume the Jazz win 6 playoff games (2nd round exit) the Jazz will need to win each of these last 23 games. As much as that would be awesome, I just don't see it happening. (In my defense, though, I could not know that the Jazz would miss over 150 man games to injury this year)
Instead of doing the whole 'poke holes into my ability to gauge how well my team can win games' game, let's move forward . . . into March. The Jazz have momentum right now, having won 7 games straight, 9 in a row at home, and 10 of their last 11. They need to keep it going, or else they may end up facing San Antonio or the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. I'd take the Jazz' chances in the first round against any of the other teams in the West (Denver, Houston, Portland, New Orleans, Dallas, Phoenix), even without home court. The Playoff Push all starts tonight on the road to the Golden State Warriors -- who killed us last time we played them.