With the turn of the calendar to April, it’s now accurate to say that the NBA’s regular season will end next month (May 16), concluding a most unique campaign because of the pandemic.
The Utah Jazz continue to hold the league’s best record by a healthy margin at 36-11, as they are up three games on the Phoenix Suns entering Thursday’s contests, and the Suns are a half game up on the Brooklyn Nets.
Remaining for the Jazz over the next 46 days before the playoffs are 25 scheduled games (that “scheduled” caveat continues to need to be used, as COVID-19 could still cause disruptions in play). Here’s a breakdown of Utah’s slate as it looks to position itself for the postseason.
The Jazz will be playing a ton of games
First, a general note that isn’t just specific to the Jazz. Every team in the NBA will have a mad dash to try to finish a 72-game regular season so the playoffs can conclude before the Summer Olympics in July and the league can start working its way back to a more normal schedule after last season was disrupted because of the pandemic.
How condensed will the schedule be between now and mid-May? Consider this: The most games any team has played thus far is 48, with the fewest being 46 (Utah has played 47). That means that over the next 46 days, teams will play anywhere from 24 to 26 games, or more than a game every other day.
To put that in some context, the season started on Dec. 22 (most teams opened the next day), meaning teams have had nearly 100 days to play their games so far, or a little bit less than one every other day. Now it’s going to be a game roughly every 1.75 days.
That might not seem like a huge difference, but the traveling loads and recovery time needed will surely start catching up with squads in some fashion. Whichever teams can enter the playoffs not exhausted could be in good shape to make a run.
The Jazz’s remaining schedule appears to be pretty easy
When the second half of the regular season schedule was released in February, it seemed as if the end wouldn’t be too tough for the Jazz based on what teams were there.
About a month later, that still appears to be the case. The website Tankathon, for example, has a formula in which it calculates schedule strength, and Utah has the fourth-easiest remaining slate among the NBA’s 30 teams, ahead of only the Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks and Washington Wizards.
- 15 of the Jazz’s 25 remaining games are against teams not currently in the playoffs (top eight in their conference). Even when that’s extended to the extra play-in teams (ninth and 10th in conferences), Utah has 12 contests remaining against nonplayoff squads.
- 14 of the remaining games will be at home, with 12 of those coming as part of at least two consecutive home games. One is sandwiched in between three-game road trips and the other, the home finale on May 12 against the Portland Trail Blazers, is after a road game and before two straight away games to finish the regular season.
- Six of the last nine games in all will be at home.
- Nine of the remaining home games are against nonplayoff teams. Five of the 11 remaining road games are against playoff teams, but none of the last three are. In all, four of the last five contests are versus nonplayoff teams.
- In all, the Jazz have six back-to-back sets left, nearly half of their remaining schedule. On the plus side, three of them are home-home sets and none are away-away sets.
- The Jazz have two five-game homestands left, while their longest remaining road trips are a pair of three-gamers.
What about the other top teams in the West?
It’s too early to really examine how teams might jockey for playoff positioning, but a bunch of the Jazz’s closest competition in the Western Conference appear to have tough remaining schedules.
According to Tankathon’s formula, the Suns have the fourth-toughest remaining slate, and the Los Angeles Lakers (currently fourth in the West) are just behind them at fifth. The Trail Blazers, currently tied with the Denver Nuggets for fifth, have the third-toughest remaining schedule (the Nuggets are down at No. 20).
The third-place LA Clippers have the 23rd-easiest remaining schedule. The eighth-place Spurs have the second-toughest schedule left, according to Tankathon.