SALT LAKE CITY — NBA games are less than a month away.
Teams began arriving at Walt Disney World on Tuesday, putting the league’s bubble into official operation and kicking off an experiment like no other.
Later this week, abbreviated training camps will begin and teams will practice in full for the first time since March 11 when the season was suspended. On July 23, the Utah Jazz will face off against the Phoenix Suns in the first of three exhibition games. The Jazz will also play the Miami Heat on July 25 and the Brooklyn Nets on July 27.
Then things really get started as each team will play eight regular season games before the NBA playoffs begin. Starting things off are the Utah Jazz.
July 30: Jazz vs. New Orleans Pelicans, 4:30 p.m. MT, TNT
It’s only fitting that the Jazz are the first team to play in the NBA bubble after being the team at the center of the league’s shutdown.
As if being the first team to play a meaningful game in Orlando wasn’t enough to draw in viewers, they’ll be facing the Pelicans, a team that the Jazz couldn’t seem to play this season without some level of controversy. And, if that wasn’t enough, there’s Zion Williamson.
On Jan. 6, Rudy Gobert contested an end-of-game bucket from Brandon Ingram that would have tied things up and sent the contest into overtime. The game ended on a weird clock review with no foul call, only to have the next day’s Last Two Minute report say that Gobert fouled Ingram. The Jazz won, 128-126.
Once again, 10 days later the Jazz played the Pelicans and it went down to the wire in even more bizarre fashion. Regulation play ended on a weird rare foul call, there were multiple reviews, five minutes of extra basketball, an overtime coach’s challenge from Quin Snyder, Gobert fouled out, and in the end a Donovan Mitchell missed a fast break layup, sealing the Pelicans win.
The Jazz were supposed to host the Pelicans on March 13, in Derrick Favors’ return to Salt Lake City, but that game never came. It would have also served as the Jazz’s first regular-season meeting with the Pelicans in which New Orleans was playing with Williamson, who missed a majority of his rookie season because of injury.
Now the teams meet each other in the very first game of the NBA’s restart in Orlando.
Aug. 1: Jazz vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 1:30 p.m. MT, ESPN
In a rematch of the game that never happened, the Jazz will face the team that they were supposed to on the night the NBA shut down.
Had the season ended on March 11, sans the eight seeding games in Orlando, the Jazz would have faced the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs and it’s very possible that they still do. The Thunder and Jazz split the games they played against each other this season and are a very well-matched team. Whoever wins this bout will win the season series between the teams and earn the tiebreaker that could be valuable if the standings in the middle of the Western Conference stay tight.
Aug. 3: Jazz vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 7 p.m. MT, ESPN
The Lakers are very close to being able to lock up the top seed in the West. If they are able to assure themselves the No. 1 seed before they face the Jazz, the Lakers could look to give some rest to their more veteran players, namely LeBron James.
At the same time, the Lakers, and every other team for that matter, could see the eight seeding games as an extended training camp that requires them to really ramp things up before the playoffs start, considering the prolonged layoff they’ve all experienced.
If the Lakers don’t lock up to the top seed before facing the Jazz, they could be looking to do just that on Aug. 3. Either way, the Lakers are one of the best teams in the league this season with some of the best players in the game, and it’s going to be a tough matchup for the Jazz since they won’t have the fire power of Bojan Bogdanovic to lift them up.
Aug. 5: Jazz vs. Memphis Grizzlies, 12:30 p.m. MT, AT&T Sportsnet
Most of the teams in Orlando are playoff-caliber teams and none of the games on the Jazz schedule are going to be easy wins, but this one against the Grizzlies could very well be the easiest on the schedule so it’s a must win for the Utah team.
The Grizzlies are one of the few teams that will be fighting for a playoff spot in Orlando as they try to hold on to their current position as the 8th-seed in the West. That means that they won’t be coming out looking to take things slow, and Ja Morant will be leading the train that’s hoping to run over the Jazz.
Against his former team, Mike Conley will need to come up big and continue to do so throughout his time in Orlando for the Jazz to have a chance for anything near a deep run.
Aug. 7: Jazz vs. San Antonio Spurs, 11 a.m. MT, AT&T Sportsnet
This is the first of two games the Jazz will play against the Spurs during the eight-game stretch.
Because of the Spurs’ place in the standings (currently 12th in the West while the Jazz are 4th) and the fact that LaMarcus Aldridge will not be playing, on paper this looks like a game you could bet on the Jazz winning.
But the Jazz lost both of their matchups against the Spurs this season. Despite their long shot chance at a playoff spot, they still remain one of the best coached teams in basketball and they have a ton of talent. The Jazz won’t be able to just take the night off against the Spurs.
Aug. 8: Jazz vs. Denver Nuggets, 1:30 p.m. MT, TNT
This is going to be a rough one.
The Jazz are going to be playing on the second night of a back-to-back, something they won’t have the benefit of being on the opposite side of in Orlando, and they’ll be playing a Denver team that has the toughest schedule of anyone during the seeding games.
While no one will be looking at the Jazz as an easy win, the toughness of Denver’s schedule makes the game against the Jazz a must win for the Nuggets. Though, at this point, Nuggets star Nikola Jokic still isn’t with the team after being stuck in Serbia following a positive coronavirus test.
The Jazz are likely going to have to pull out all the stops the get a “W” out of this Saturday afternoon showcase.
Aug. 10: Jazz vs. Dallas Mavericks, 1 p.m. MT, NBA TV
Despite the best efforts of Kristaps Porzingas and Luka Doncic, the Jazz have beaten the Mavericks in both of their meetings this year and so long as they can continue to contain and make things difficult for Doncic, they should be able to come away with the win here.
But Dallas is in an interesting spot in the West, just one-and-a-half games behind the Thunder and Houston Rockets in the fifth and sixth seeds respectively. Though they aren’t brought up much when talking about contenders in the West, the Mavericks could be looking to gain a higher seed and move up and they’re positioned well to do that.
Aug. 13: Jazz vs. San Antonio Spurs, TBD
The NBA hasn’t set the schedule for the final seeding contests because they want the most riveting ones that carry the most weight to be the ones they show on national TV during prime time. It’s very unlikely that this Jazz-Spurs matchup will fit the bill.
At this point, it’s more probable than not that the Spurs will be out of playoff, or play-in, contention and the Jazz will have one of the easiest wins of the restart on their hands.
That’s assuming the Spurs don’t go on a crazy tear and shock everyone by playing themselves into a solid position. Stranger things have happened.