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Can the Jazz make a real run at the title? Here are 5 questions that must be answered

After finishing the first half of the season with the best record in the NBA, the Jazz seem poised to do something special this season — but there is still work to be done

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Utah Donovan Mitchell pauses during a game against the Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday, March 3, 2021, in Philadelphia. Mitchell voiced during the offseason that he is tired of losing in the playoffs and desires deeper runs in the postseason.

Matt Slocum, Associated Press

The second half of the NBA season is underway and the league-leading Utah Jazz will have their work cut out for them in the push to the playoffs.

At the beginning of the 2020-21 season, I posed 10 questions the Jazz would need to answer this season. As we’ve just hit the midway point of the season, it seemed like a good time to revisit and review some of the questions that needed answering this season and pose a few more that are more specific to the second half of the schedule.


After a whirlwind of a playoff series against the Denver Nuggets last season, in which the Jazz were unceremoniously bounced after blowing a 3-1 lead, there were questions about what the Jazz would be getting out of their biggest stars in the 2020-21 season. Could Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert elevate their games? And, could Mike Conley sustain his level of play from the bubble?

So far, the results have been pretty positive for all three players. 

Mitchell has been shooting more from the outside and at a higher efficiency than at any other point in his career, his passing and playmaking have improved, and he seems more focused. There’s still room for improvement on both sides of the ball but it seems like Mitchell is at least trying to elevate his game.

Gobert has had to take on a little bit different role as the Jazz have shifted more to a space and pace style of offense, but he’s adjusted well. He and Mitchell both made their second straight All-Star teams and Gobert will definitely be one of the leading contenders to win Defensive Player of the Year.

Conley is playing the best basketball of his career and earned his first All-Star nod as a result. Just about every concern that anyone had about Conley last season has been put to rest. He’s calming and poised on offense and playing efficiently, and his defense has exceeded expectations.

With the addition of Derrick Favors this year and Joe Ingles moving more permanently to the bench, there was optimism that the Jazz’s second unit would be able to ratchet things up. Jordan Clarkson has emerged as the league’s leading sixth man and is the Jazz’s second most productive scorer behind Mitchell. Additionally, the addition of Favors has made Ingles seem more at ease with the second unit.

Through the first half of the season the Jazz rocketed to the top of the standings and have had a top-five offense and top-five defense, so there’s a lot that has been going well. The question of whether it will translate to the postseason still remains.

Here are five questions the Jazz must answer heading into second half of the season.

LA Clippers guard Patrick Beverley (21) and Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) chase down the ball

LA Clippers guard Patrick Beverley (21) and Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) chase down the ball as the Utah Jazz and LA Clippers play in an NBA basketball game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. With an even more condensed second half of the schedule coming up, will we see players like Mike Conley sit out the second game of some back-to-back sets?

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

1. How will the Jazz handle the second-half schedule?

The Jazz had one of the tougher first-half schedules as far as their opponents were concerned. They played a lot of the top teams in the league. But, just because they’ll be facing more of the lower-tier teams in the NBA doesn’t mean that the schedule is going to be a breeze.

The truncated and jam-packed 2020-21 schedule is even more truncated and jam-packed from now until the playoffs. There are a lot of back-to-back games and games that have to be made up after postponements from earlier in the season. That means less sleep, more travel, less practice time and more stress.

We could see Conley miss games on the second night of back-to-back sets. Jazz coach Quin Snyder could end up resting guys. And, as always, there’s no telling how injury or COVID-19 could impact things. 

Not only is the schedule going to be a little chaotic, but teams are more settled now than they were to start the season so even some nonplayoff contending teams are comfortable and confident. Everyone is a threat.

How the Jazz choose to handle this packed second-half schedule will have a major impact on what they look like when the postseason begins.


Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder, left, and vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey talk as the Jazz and 76ers play in Summer league action in the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 5, 2017. Whether the Jazz make a roster move before the March 25 trading deadline remains to be seen, but is always a possibility.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

2. Will the Jazz make any moves before the trade deadline?

This season’s trade deadline is March 25. Teams are deciding if they are buyers or sellers and the Jazz  are no different.

There are a couple of ways to look at the Jazz as far as the trade market is concerned. One way is to see that they have a legitimate shot of winning a title this year and  if they think they can make a move that gives them even more of a shot at a championship, then it could be worth going all-in.

On the other hand, the chemistry and continuity of the team has been a huge advantage for the Jazz this season and any move runs the risk of upsetting the balance that they’ve struck.

There hasn’t been much buzz around the Jazz on the trade market, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be willing to roll the dice if the right deal comes along.


Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, right, goes up for a shot against Utah Jazz’s Bojan Bogdanovic during game Wednesday, March 3, 2021, in Philadelphia. How the Jazz’s perimeter defense plays during the second half of the season could impact their success in the playoffs.

Matt Slocum, Associated Press

3. Can the Jazz improve their perimeter defense?

The Jazz do have one of the best defensive teams in the league and have played at a high level for the most part this season. When the Jazz’s wings are at their best and Gobert is locked in, they have looked like a well-oiled machine. But, on nights when their wing defenders routinely get beat it’s impossible for Gobert to make up for every mistake and the Jazz are overwhelmed.

Preventing players from breaking into the paint has been a little bit of an issue this season and it’s certainly something that other teams are going to try to exploit, particularly in the playoffs, and especially if the Jazz can’t find a solution.

The Jazz have talented defensive players who are capable, they just need to be more consistent from one game to the next. 


Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic spins away from Dallas Mavericks guard Trey Burke during game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. The Jazz hope their sharpshooter will be at full health by the time the playoffs roll around.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

4. Will Bojan Bogdanovic be ready for the playoffs?

There’s no question the Jazz could have used Bogdanovic’s shooting and dynamic scoring ability in the 2020 playoffs. Unfortunately, wrist surgery had him sidelined right up until the beginning of this season and he’s had a bit of a tough go through the first half of the schedule. His shooting has been streaky and his efficiency is down across the board.

The road back for Bogdanovic was never expected to be an easy one and the Jazz are willing to tread through these rough patches with him, just as they were last season with Conley. The problem with Bogdanovic is that his defensive liabilities are exacerbated when the offense is flat.

The question is whether Bogdanovic can get back to a more reliable and steady version of himself, offsetting his defensive flaws, by the time the playoffs start.


Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, left, and guard Donovan Mitchell five each other as the Utah Jazz and the Miami Heat play at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. After agreeing to big new contracts, can the Jazz’s one-two punch propel team to an NBA championship?

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

5. Are the Jazz true contenders?

It’s the same question we had at the beginning of the season. Once the regular season is over, the Jazz will be looking to prove they are not just an early exit playoff team.

Can they do more than just make it to the playoffs? Can they make a deep playoff run? These are questions that have been asked of the Jazz for years, but this year is a little different.

Despite what they’ve accomplished this season, they’ve been disrespected and overlooked and there are many that don’t believe they deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the other consensus title contenders. The Jazz will only be validated if they’re able to back up what they’ve done in the regular season with success in the playoffs.

At this point, anything less than a Western Conference finals appearance would feel like a failure and disappointment.

So, can they do it?