The Utah Jazz needed to win the final game of the regular season to earn the top spot in the Western Conference.
They needed just one win, against a Sacramento Kings team that had nothing to play for, and the Jazz would finish as the winningest team of the 2020-21 season.
The Kings would be playing without nearly the entirety of their regular rotation, the Jazz had nothing to be scared of, so it might as well had been a scheduled win.
But the Jazz weren’t going to take any chances. They weren’t going to mess around. In an unselfish fashion and with the ease of the top team in the league, the Jazz blew out the Kings, 121-99, en route to locking up the No. 1 seed, guaranteeing that they will have home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
When Jazz head coach Quin Snyder was asked before the game about preparing for the playoffs he wanted no part of it.
“With all due respect, we’re focused on tonight,” he said.
The Jazz had a chance to learn their fate earlier in the day, but a Phoenix Suns win over the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday afternoon meant the Jazz had to beat the Kings or they’d slip down to the No. 2 spot in the West.
But, less than four hours later, with the regular season behind him Snyder beamed with gratitude.
“You appreciate this group of men and appreciate the opportunity to coach them,” Snyder said. “And appreciate what they’ve accomplished in the regular season. I want all of them, all of us, to enjoy this moment, because I feel like if we do that — appreciate the regular season — then I think that transitions us to the mindset we need to have to try to play well in playoffs.”
For the first time in franchise history, the Jazz finished the regular season as the sole owners of the best record in the NBA (52-20). Twice before this season, the Jazz finished No. 1 in the West, in 1996-97 and 1997-98. The Jazz had the second best record in the league in 1996-97 behind the Chicago Bulls and tied the Bulls’ 62-20 record in 1997-98.
Outright having the best record in the league is something that the Jazz are making a point not to gloss over. They want to prepare for the playoffs and focus their energy on the bigger goals, but they want to make sure they are soaking up what they’ve been able to do this year.
“Even today I was telling the guys that this doesn’t happen every so often that you’re the No. 1 seed, the No. 1 one team in the NBA in the regular season,” Mike Conley said. “So enjoy the moment that we’re in right now.”
The Jazz will begin playoff preparations as much as they can in the coming week before they know who their opponent will be and that preparation will include getting the final piece of the puzzle, Donovan Mitchell, who missed the final 16 games of the season, as close to full strength as possible.
The Jazz will face the West’s eighth seed in the opening round of the playoffs, but their opponent won’t be determined until the conclusion of the Play-In Tournament.
The No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers will play the No. 8 Golden State Warriors on Wednesday and the winner of that game will become the 7th seed and face the No. 2 Suns in the first round of the playoffs.
On Friday, the loser of the Lakers-Warriors game will face the winner of a second Wednesday game between the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies and the winner of that final game will be the eighth seed and the Jazz’s first-round opponent.
“Those games going to be fun to watch, I’m excited to watch those games,” Rudy Gobert said. “Whoever we face, we know that it’s going to be a long journey, and we’re going to be ready.”
Even with the truncated season — 72 total games rather than the traditional 82 — the Jazz’s 52 win are the most in a single season since the 2009-10 Jazz went 53-29.