The NBA playoffs have arrived, so of course pundits and sportswriters everywhere have taken a stab at predicting exactly how the proceedings will play out.
Let’s be honest, though, no one really knows. Sure, the NBA playoffs usually have the fewest amount of upsets of any professional sports league, but there are at least seven or more teams this year that could conceivably hoist the championship trophy at the end, including the Utah Jazz.
With the newly instituted play-in tournament, we still don’t even know who the Jazz will play in the first round. We do know, however, which teams would be the most fun to watch the Jazz play this postseason. More specifically, we know which teams it would be the most exhilarating to have the Jazz eliminate from contention.
Let’s start at the top.
Los Angeles Lakers
Was there any doubt as to which team would be first on the list?
The Lakers are a reviled franchise in Salt Lake City — if you ignore the mass of Lakers fans that regularly attend games at Vivint Arena (pre-COVID-19), and they are hard to ignore — going back to the Malone and Stockton era, but also the Deron Williams/Carlos Boozer era of the late 2000s.
Those Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol-led Lakers, lest anyone forget, eliminated the Jazz in the playoffs in back-to-back-to-back seasons, all but rendering the D-Will era as nothing more than a blip on the larger NBA landscape.
Even during Los Angeles’ downturn when they missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons, a win against the Lakers remained as sweet as ever.
Throw in the recent All-Star game slights of Mitchell and Gobert, courtesy of LeBron James — in case you forgot, while selecting his team, James said of the duo and their franchise: “I just want to say something, because there’s no slander to the Utah Jazz. But you guys got to understand, just like in video games growing up, we never played with Utah. Even as great as Karl Malone and John Stockton were, we never would have picked those guys. Never.” — and the vitriol toward the Lakers is as strong as ever.
Given the fact that the Lakers are also the defending NBA champions, a series win over LA would be especially savored in Utah and for good reason.
The only way the Jazz can knock out the 76ers is in the NBA Finals, which would make beating them the most special and satisfying series win in franchise history, but that isn’t why they are on here.
No, they’re on here because of two players: Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
Simmons famously edged out Mitchell for Rookie of Year back in 2018, an award win Jazz fans will always see as a sham.
Cough — he was a second-year player — cough.
This year, Simmons has been Gobert’s chief competitor for Defensive Player of the Year, though that award seems to be all Gobert’s at this point, no matter how loud Philly supporters are.
Speaking of Gobert, he and Embiid are almost always mentioned in the same breath when it comes to best center in the NBA, along with expected league MVP Nikola Jokic. No matter how effective or impactful Gobert is, though, Embiid is almost always awarded the title of “best center” by national pundits. He’ll be either first- or second-team NBA this year, likely relegating Gobert to third team.
All of this is made more interesting by the repeated barbs thrown back and forth through the media by them all. It is the beef that keeps on giving.
A win over the 76ers would forever give Mitchell and Gobert the edge over Simmons and Embiid. A title would just mean more.
Much like with the 76ers, this one comes down to two guys: Chris Paul and Devin Booker, though mostly one guy.
Booker isn’t beloved by Jazz fans like he is around much of the rest of the league. In fact, they don’t like him at all. He is too often touted as a better shooting guard than Mitchell, an idea that grates upon even the most casual Utah supporters.
That being said, most of the beef with the Suns is due to Paul.
Seen as a whiner, a complainer, even sometimes a little dirty, Paul has been disliked since his time with the then New Orleans Hornets, when he and D-Will competed for the title of “best point guard.”
After Paul’s stint with the Houston Rockets, during which he helped eliminate the Jazz in consecutive playoffs, knocking him from title contention — and silencing him for even a little bit — would be chef’s kiss.
Los Angeles Clippers
Playoff P. Self-proclaimed at that. That is really all that needs to be said.
While the Clippers most certainly aren’t the Lakers, Paul George is definitely on the list of most disliked players. While with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Paul got into it with Joe Ingles in the 2018 playoffs — Ingles has to be one of the most beloved Jazz players of all time so that was a major mistake — and eliminating the Thunder was one of the brightest spots in recent Jazz history.
Eliminating the Clippers would almost assuredly mean that George struggled again — Los Angeles has largely performed as George has in his two seasons there — which would only add a little something extra to a series win.
Much like with the Clippers, any animosity towards the Nets really comes down to one player: James Harden.
That doesn’t really need an explanation, but here it is. While with the Rockets, “The Beard” knocked the Jazz out of the playoffs in back-to-back years while playing arguably the most infuriating style of basketball ever.
Since then, he’s tanked his way out of Houston and forced his way to the Nets to play alongside Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant (who aren’t beloved figures either).
The Jazz can’t face the Nets until the NBA Finals, but a title win over Brooklyn would champion the cause of the homegrown team over the Super Team (though if we are being honest the Jazz aren’t exactly home grown either) and be almost the perfect kind of revenge for defeats past.
Never forget July 4, 2017.
Gordon Hayward ruined that day for thousands and for that reason, whatever team he has been on since has always been quite disliked in Salt Lake City.
That was a little harder this year, given he plays for the Charlotte Hornets. Seriously, though, does anyone dislike the Hornets? Well, Jazz fans have proven that someone can indeed dislike the Hornets.
Preventing Hayward from winning a championship while winning one in the process would be oh so sweet.
Unfortunately, the Jazz won’t even get a shot at Hayward, after the Pacers obliterated the Hornets Tuesday night in the first game of the play-in tournament.
Maybe next year.