By: Field Level Media
Utah Jazz NBA Bubble Restart Preview
UTAH JAZZ (41-23), 4th in Western Conference
Where are they now: The Jazz find themselves in a four-team duel for seeds 3-thru-6 in the West, the significance of which is two-fold: 1) Is there an opponent among the four that Utah would prefer to draw in the first round? And 2) Between the top-seeded Lakers and second-seeded Clippers, is there an opponent the Jazz would like to try to avoid in Round 2?
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Utah will be the first to return to play, drawing the Pelicans in the nationally televised bubble curtain-raiser on July 30. They will take the court 1½ games behind third-seeded Denver (43-22), and one game ahead of both Oklahoma City (40-24) and Houston (40-24), who are currently tied for fifth. Among the four, the Jazz (.556) has the easiest remaining schedule in terms of cumulative winning percentage of opponents, followed by the Thunder (.583), Rockets (.587) and Nuggets (.618). Utah has one game remaining against Oklahoma City (Aug. 1) and Denver (Aug. 8), but none against Houston.
Utah Jazz First Half Highlights
The Jazz were a streaky bunch in the regular season, going 19-2 in one stretch that included a 10-game winning streak, but also enduring four- and five-game losing skids. They went into the All-Star break with a club-record 36 wins. However, they were staggering in February and March, having just split their last 18 games before Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus and the NBA went on shutdown.
Those first 64 games showcased a different-looking Utah team, one much more offensively focused and defensively challenged. Who’d have guessed that the Jazz would lead the NBA in scoring after Jan. 1 (116.6 points per game), and also allow 100 or more points 13 consecutive times in the month of December? Utah ranked second in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage (38.3) and fourth in overall field goal percentage (47.5), but just 11th in points allowed (108.8) per 100 possessions.
Utah Jazz NBA Bubble Roster Rundown
Believe it or not, the Jazz return to play with bigger problems than Gobert’s frosty relationship with fellow All-Star Donovan Mitchell. That’s because Bojan Bogdanovic, who played through the pain of a wrist injury suffered in January, elected to undergo season-ending surgery over the break, taking his 20.2 points per game to the hospital with him.
“We’ll have to make adjustments in some of the stuff we run,” noted Joe Ingles, who is expected to take Bogdanovic’s starting spot. “Some of the stuff we ran for him, we can run for other guys on our team. We’ll have someone like Mike (Conley) to have the ball more and he’ll be able to do what he’s done his whole career.”
Conley, who started slowly in his first season with the Jazz, was on a nice roll before the coronavirus break, averaging 16.5 points on 45.8-percent shooting in his last 13 games. And he stayed hot during the layoff, winning ESPN’s nationally televised H-O-R-S-E competition.
As for Gobert and Mitchell, they’d like to believe the standout guard’s criticism over the big guy’s handling of the coronavirus situation is no longer a major issue.
“As long as we respect one another and both share the same goals and we both do what’s best for the team,” Gobert insisted, “that’s what matters.”
Utah Jazz NBA Bubble Playoff Outlook
The Jazz have clinched their fourth consecutive playoff berth. Their path to a probable second-round matchup with either the Lakers or Clippers almost surely will have to go through either Denver, Oklahoma City or Houston, and each figures to be a rocky road.
Utah went a combined 2-5 against those three, losing two straight to the Nuggets and two of three to the Rockets. The Jazz split a pair with the Thunder, but the loss (104-90) was a lot more one-sided than the win (100-95).
And that was before losing Bogdanovic.
Utah Jazz Best Bet for the NBA Bubble: Jazz (plus-2½ on FanDuel)) over Pelicans on July 30. America loves Zion Williamson and hates Gobert. How else do you explain a 28-win team being favored, on a neutral site, over a 41-win club? Note the clubs met three times earlier this season; the Pelicans never won by more than two points.
–Field Level Media