With the release of the NBA schedule yesterday, Jeff Lind and Mychal Lowman take a look at how it affects the Jazz. They each answered 6 questions about the upcoming season. Call it a Point-Counterpoint. Let’s go!
1.) Based on last year, do you think the Jazz’s strength of schedule this year is harder or easier?
I look at strength of schedule as a combination of two factors: A) strength of opponent and B) scheduled games.
*2010-2011 Strength of Opponent: *
- Opening weekend is going to be tough. A back to back out of the gate against all around rival Denver and always tough Suns.
- Tough road trip mid November – Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, Charlotte, then back home to meet OKC
- March looks like one of the lighter months opponent-wise (it’s a hard thing to say any month in an NBA schedule is “easy,” especially in a month with 6 games in 9 nights), but March is also marked with two games against Minnesota, and some coasters like Philly, Washington, Toronto, and Sacramento.
- It’s a good thing March is a bit easier because April is going to be a brutal finish. I mean, last year’s April was tough (@LAL, OKC, PHX), but this year the league is just being mean. A double dip from LAL, a visit from matured divisional rival Portland, a sprinkle of San Antonio, and topped off with a visit from the always tough Nuggets (season bookends). It’s going to be an intense month, especially if we have another WC photo finish.
*2010-2011 Scheduled Games: *
If you break the two seasons into Back-to-Back games (B2B), months with 16+ games in them, number of 4+ game road trips, and longest road trip the numbers compare pretty similarly year over year:
The two things that stick out to me about this is:
The Jazz have the same amount of B2B’s but they are worse this year with two more A/A games scheduled.
The Jazz have an extra 16+ game month this year.
Last year the Jazz had an easier entry into the season that they squandered. The team took too long trying to figure itself out, and wasted an opportunity to get some space in the west. As the season went along it got progressively more difficult. Luckily, the team got progressively better. This year, the schedule starts and ends tougher. It has more difficult B2Bs. It’s a tough, balanced schedule and the Jazz don’t have a few months to figure it out. They have to be ready to go from opening tip.
I agree with Jeff. Last season it really seemed that Utah squandered easy chances to secure high seeding in the playoffs. Can you say Minnesota? On paper it looks like they’re facing the same amount of B2Bs and the Jazz have two 16+ game months this season. But is it harder or easier? I say it’s a bit easier. I think if we had last year’s Jazz squad on this schedule they’d have had a hay day. I’m not saying this Jazz squad is not as good. On the contrary, I think they’ll be even better. But it’s going to take this team some time to develop into their new roles. That first 4 game road trip scares me because hopefully by that road trip the Jazz have begun to gel into Jerry’s Flex Offense.
2.) Is Deron Williams’ claim that no Sunday home games increases the amount of back to backs merited?
Sort of… but it’s kind of a lame argument. I mean,not playing on Sunday definitely increases the B2Bs, but other teams deal with these types of issues too, and it’s not just small market teams. The Lakers had 20 B2B’s last year, and they play on Sundays… their issue is TV schedule (saying that, LAL only have 15 scheduled this year). What it really means isn’t that the Jazz have more B2B’s then other teams in the league in a given season, but they consistently have more than the others do.
Yes and no. Not playing on Sunday in Utah definitely causes bumps in the schedule but as Jeff pointed out other teams go through scheduling processes that force them in unfavorable scheduling. Is it fair that Utah doesn’t play on Sundays? No. Does it help them make money? Yes. Ultimately, Deron needs to see that you’re an athlete working in an entertainment business. So you have to make concessions for your patrons. Will the Jazz have more B2Bs than most teams every year? Usually. But is it still possible to win a lot of games? Oh yes.
3.) Can the Jazz avoid their annual dive-bomb for a month? If not, in which month will it occur?
They have to this year. Running the flex depends on having a group of players working together from the opening whistle to the final buzzer, and the Utah Jazz organization is predicated on having a lean group of undervalued players exceeding expectations. The schedule is tough enough this year, that they can’t afford to lose the gimme’s to the Minnesota’s and Clippers (’09). If it’s one thing the Jazz should have learned the last few years, it’s that one game can make all the difference. After the final Phoenix loss last year , I sat in disbelief wondering what would have been had they won one more game against the Wolves, or started out the season like they finished, or… It was maddening. This year’s team can’t afford to take a month off (also, with Deron’s contract coming up, the Jazz need to show him that they can win now… the last thing the Jazz need is to lose a franchise player because they can’t consistently perform to our potential).
While I agree with Jeff that Utah can’t afford another year with a 10 game stretch of going 3-7 or 2-8, I think I found on the schedule the scary stretch that we could be saying at the end of the year, “If only the Jazz could have….” That stretch? The January 5 game road trip. In that road trip the Jazz face Washington, New Jersey, Boston, Philadelphia, then travel cross country to play in LA against the Lakers. Then come home the next night and play San Antonio. Then they face our arch nemesis Minnesota. Stretches like this are historically the times the Jazz have played below what they’re capable of. I don’t have to stretch my imagination to see the Jazz trip up against these lottery bound teams and fall short against Boston, LA, and San Antonio.
4.) When will the Jazz make their annual turnaround/make Greg Miller & Kevin O’Connor look like a genius/winning streak?
This question rests on the shoulders of Al Jefferson and Raja Bell. It seems some fans have already crowned Kevin O’Conner as off-season genius 2010, but it seems premature. What if Al doesn’t gel properly in our offense, or what if his defense really doesn’t improve under Sloan? What if Raja loses his defensive step or has an issue with his wrist? Right now we’re riding on the blue sky of the off-season. Don’t get me wrong… I love what happened in the off-season. Love it. I think they’re better on paper this year then they were going out last year, but it’s just blue sky. The Jazz is a bubble economy right now and we won’t know if they have the assets to back up our investment until the season starts. I’m thinking Al will be serviceable in month one, starts showing flashes of brilliance in late November, and is melting minds come December. By that point, If AK plays to his contract, Raja shoots like he should & plays solid D, Milsap is playing like we know he can (20/10), and Memo is raindancing again then we could have the official O’Conner coronation come January.
I know December has usually been a month many a Jazz fan would like to forget but I think that is going to be the time where the Jazz start showing signs of brilliance. I think that’s when the Jazz will hit their stride. I think November is going to be a rough month as players are trying to find their roles. I will admit I’m drinking the O’Connor kool-aid already. Now if Sloan can get Big Al rolling in the Flex, trusting his teammates, and playing strong defense we could be seeing a Jazz renaissance of exciting proportions.
5.) What will be Utah’s most pivotal set of games?
There are two sets of games that will be crucial. The first is the annual Eastern road trip (@MIA, @ORL, @ATL, @CHA). The Jazz need to do well on this trip to solidify our confidence as a team. The second crucial set (and I’d argue MOST important) comes during the last week of the season (@LAL, POR, @SA, @NOL, DEN). It’s ridiculous. Major WC and divisional implications. The Jazz are always in the mix, and the WC is always a dogfight come April. Maybe I’m just haunted by the end of last season, but history says that this set of games will *significantly* impact the Jazz’ seeding in the playoffs.
I agree once again. That first Eastern conference trip will show us if this is the team that is ready to ascend into the upper echelon of teams or if the Jazz truly did take a couple steps back. I think the Jazz will do well on this trip because of one special player: Raja Bell. Raja Bell is going to be such an addition on road trips. He will keep this team focused. He will become Sloan’s secret police. He will keep the troops in line if there are a few road bumps. The last end of the season is just going to be exciting. Yes the Jazz fans will be having heart attacks every two nights with pivotal games being decided every night. With the division and playoff seeding on the line, the beginning and the end of the season will decide a lot for the Jazz this year. Exciting stuff. As Craig Bolerjack would say, “Buckle your seatbelts!”
6.) ESPN’s “Summer Forecast” has the jazz taking a step back for 2010-2011. They predict the Jazz will go 47-35, finishing 6 games worse than last season, and ending up in the playoffs as the 7 seed. Now that the schedule is released do you see the Jazz winning more or less than 47 games and do you think this is the season the young bloods: OKC and Portland usurp control of the Northwest from Denver and Utah?
I saw this yesterday and blood squirted out of my eyes. Yes they lost Boozer, Wesley, and Korver, but they got some SOLID additions in the process. Twice a year, every year, the collective media has selective amnesia regarding who Jerry Sloan is and what he does:
Amnesia period 1: Preseason
The Jazz are the perennial underdog. Under appreciated and disrespected. No one EVER expects the Jazz to do well. And if someone *does* they hedge immediately and heavily.
Amnesia period 2: COY Voting
(no description necessary).
As far as Portland and OKC go, I’m terrified of Portland. If those guys stay healthy, they are going to be a horrible team to play. We’ll see if Oden can ever truly get healthy, but even without him, they are insanely talented. Now… OKC… Yes. They are good… really good, but 2!? I just don’t see it. I love Durant and Westbrook. I think they (and the OKC organization) are class acts and will certainly be amazing, but let’s be careful about taking them over the West’s field. Yeah, they hung tough against a disinterested Laker team last year, but there were a lot of teams that got better this summer, and one of those teams ends in two z’s. I think it’s entirely feasible to see the Jazz finish ahead of Dallas, Portland, and San Antonio but I’m feeling confident that they’ll finish ahead of OKC and the Nuggets (sorry Denver… with Carmelo looking toward NY, Chauncy looking toward another birthday, and with the addition of yet another character in Al Harrington, I don’t see you beating the Jazz consistently). OKC has been playing on raw talent, but I still think they need some time to develop into elite status. They have the guts and grit to be great, but it will take a perfect storm for them to land at 2 in the west.
When I saw where the Jazz were picked to finish I couldn’t believe it. I, like my SCH compadre here, had to take a tissue to wipe the blood from my eyes. After a quick trip to my optometrist I had to check the papers and make sure Sloan hadn’t been fired. I have just come to expect the following equation:
A Talented Team + Sloan = At least 50 wins.
An Untalented but Hardworking Team + Sloan = 45 wins.
But with lower expectations this might be the year Sloan can sneak off with a COY award. It looks like there is a definite love affair with Kevin Durant’s Thunder but I also believe in perfect storms. While I think the Thunder are much improved they caught a lot of teams off guard last year. That won’t happen two years in a row. The Jazz found that out the hard way after they went to the Western Conference Finals. I don’t see how Dallas is rated above the Jazz. The Jazz had their number last year. San Antonio? The Jazz ruled that series. And Denver? Hit your TIVO and look at how the Jazz dismantled them without two of their starters. But I’m glad that the Jazz are off the radar finally. It seems that target is off our backs and it’s on Portland and OKC. I do agree with Jeff on Portland. If Portland is healthy this upcoming season they’re going to be a mean team to play. They’re deep and talented and young. OKC has a solid rotation but the Jazz still can pound it in down low and take advantage in the paint. In my opinion, I think the fight for the division will be between Utah and Portland. With that said, watch out for OKC. If Cole Aldrich develops quickly as a defensive stopper for them this will be an interesting year. I see the Jazz finishing in the 4 spot this year in the West.