In a season filled with surprises, sudden game postponements, and pandemic-driven safety protocols, which are on top of the usual grind, the low-profile, small-market Utah Jazz have emerged as one of the strongest teams.
The Jazz currently sit atop the NBA standings with an 18-5 record, all while ranking among the best in various stat categories. They allow the fewest three per game and also place inside the top four in points allowed, defensive rating, offensive rating, and net rating.
No other squad is even close to matching such efficiency on offense and defense – not the two Los Angeles teams or the East-leading Philadelphia Sixers….. well, at least for now because things are about to get more tougher.
Utah has a demanding 11-game tilt towards the next three weeks. All but two have a winning record, and six of those games are opposite bona fide elites – twice against the LA Clippers on the road and one each versus the Sixers, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, and Milwaukee Bucks. In between those five top-tier teams are 10 potential All-Star opponents, maybe more.
One of the teams who has a losing record can be considered a threat too: the Miami Heat, who may have a deceiving record because of injuries.
Nevertheless, the Jazz should aim to keep their momentum going because it’ll be hell to close out the month. It seems that the gang is confident heading into the potentially gruelling wave of challenges.
Earlier this week, Mike Conley was asked about the upcoming brutal schedule. The veteran floor general brushed it off:
“The thing that’s helped our success so far is we’ve just taken it game by game … We’re not really worried about the schedule or how strong or weak or who our opponent is the next night, on back-to-backs — we’re just going in on that night trying to play our basketball and trying to do what we do best. And if it’s enough, we’ll win — we’ll win these games against the good teams. As long as we go out and execute the way we know we can — and obviously we want to play well, we want to do well against the good teams — but just taking it one by one is the way to go.”Mike Conley
As cliché as it may sound, taking it one game at a time is simply the right way to go about it. Don’t forget that despite being shortened, the season is still a 72-game campaign. They have 49 games left.
How will the Jazz fare in the hellish schedule?
It’s the most interesting three-week schedule in the league, and we ought to keep an eye at every turn. The Jazz won’t get out of it without scratches, but they will definitely be formidable against anyone.
Aside from Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert maintaining their All-Star play (particularly the latter, who leads the league in defensive win shares and ranks second in defensive rating), there’s also a pair of red-hot secondary weapons: Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson.
Bogdanovic has been scorching the opposition for 26.2 points and 4.8 threes on 60% shooting over his last five games, while Clarkson is a leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate thanks to chipping in 17.6 points in just 25.2 minutes of action off the bench.
Then, topping the supporting cast is the dirty work regularly provided by Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neal – two smart and pesky ‘3 and D’ players.
Whichever it may be, the Jazz should survive it decently. They may come out of it looking better. Let’s stay tuned.
The Jazz will face the Indiana Pacers next. They’ll meet on Monday at 2:00 AM, Manila time.