Utah Jazz fans are hopelessly optimistic about their team, so I’ll try not to rain on the parade as their team opens the playoffs Saturday morning against the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas.
So I probably shouldn’t even mention that the timing of the playoffs could be, um, better. Why couldn’t they have begun the playoffs in, say, December?
I also shouldn’t mention that the Jazz, after starting the season so strongly, are limping to the starting line of the playoffs. Their longest win streak in two months is three games; since finishing the calendar year of 2021 with a 26-9 record, they are 23-24, including a 4-7 finish.
You didn’t hear this from me, but ESPN asked a group of “NBA analysts and writers” to make predictions for the Jazz-Mavs playoff series. Only seven of 19 “experts” picked Utah to survive the first round.
(Brief, covert, rather gloomy aside here: The Jazz have checked out of the playoffs twice in the first round in the last three seasons. They haven’t moved past the second round since 2007. Last season they had the best record in the entire NBA and were bounced out of the playoffs in the second round. Not good.)
Not only is no one jumping on the Jazz bandwagon, there is no bandwagon (does anyone even know what a bandwagon is anymore?).
“The Utah Jazz are Broken,” read one internet headline at the end of March. “The Utah Jazz are Crumbling …” read another internet headline in January. “Utah Jazz Struggling During Mid-Season Slump …” read still another post in January when the team lost 11 of 13 during one stretch before winning nine of the next 10.
Others are raining on the parade, too: Sports Illustrated recently wrote that Utah “appears to be coming apart at the seams lately.” ESPN reporter Tim MacMahon had this to say ahead of the playoffs: “Unless they catch lightning in a bottle and all the friction this team has gets solved in the next couple of weeks, it feels like they’re a one-and-done team. And if they’re one and done, I do believe there will be franchise-altering changes this summer that could involve pretty much anyone that you would want to name.”
Speaking of friction — and I shouldn’t even go here — a week and a half ago, coach Quin Snyder spent 20 minutes refuting speculation that Donovan Mitchell does not have an issue passing the ball to Rudy Gobert — methinks he doth protest too much — and trying to refute the notion — and the facts — that the Jazz have a problem holding a lead.
Three days later the Jazz blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead to the Suns and lost.
So maybe — just maybe — the Jazz have issues with protecting a lead. It sounds like a takeoff on a famous Seinfeld scene: The Jazz know how to TAKE the lead, they just don’t know how to HOLD the lead, and that’s really the most important part: THE HOLDING.”
I could be mistaken.
So the Utah Jazz’s eternal quest for a championship resumes Saturday morning under a dark cloud (in keeping with the rain-on-the-parade metaphor). The Jazz moved from New Orleans to Salt Lake City for the 1979-80 season and four years later qualified for the first playoff berth in franchise history. In the 42 years since then they have made the playoffs 31 times.
But there’s been no championship.
Maybe this will be the year. It’s not all bad news. The Jazz have the highest offensive rating in the NBA this season. And the Lakers are gone. If the Jazz can can advance in the playoffs, at least they don’t have to face those guys. Not even LeBron can win games from his couch. And there’s this: Luka Doncic, one of the best players in the world — better than James — plays for the Mavericks, but there’s a chance that an injury will sideline him for Saturday’s game.
There’s reason for some optimism by Jazz fans.