1. How many of the 16 teams that made the Playoffs, if any, could the Jazz beat in a seven-game series?
Clint Johnson: Five. They should beat Brooklyn in a seven game series. I see the Jazz as about even money against Boston and Milwaukee, excepting the home court. They would have been definite underdogs against the weakest of the playoff teams in the West—New Orleans and Dallas—but by no means would those teams have been unbeatable (given Dallas’ dysfunction).
Denim Millward: Three and maybe four: Pelicans, Nets and Celtics. I think there’s an outside chance they knock off the Bucks in seven, too. I’m not sure if Vegas would favor the Jazz in any of those series, though.
Matt Pacenza: I don’t quite trust the .667 clip the Jazz played at post-All Star Break. Thus, while they might have beaten dysfunctional/injured Dallas and Portland in the West and mediocre Brooklyn, Boston and Toronto in the East, New Orleans and Milwaukee might be a hair better right now.
Dakota Schmidt: I’d probably give the Jazz an advantage over Eastern Conference teams like Milwaukee, Brooklyn and Boston. All three of those teams have consistently struggled against dominating big men, which became Utah’s biggest asset after Gobert moved into the front-court.
David J. Smith: The second-half-of-the-season Jazz, with that stellar defense, might give them a better chance in the postseason than most would predict. I could have seen Utah having the chops to do well against Boston, Milwaukee, New Orleans and Brooklyn, with three other teams being definite possibilities due to strange storylines in Dallas (Rondo), Portland (injuries) and Toronto (ill-timed slumping).
2. Which current Jazz player would give which playoff team the best chance of winning the championship this year?
Clint Johnson: It would be easy to slot any Jazzman into the Warrior’s machine, so instead I’ll say Rudy Gobert to the Cavaliers. He’s a difference-making shot blocker and rebounder, exactly what LeBron James needs when he plays power forward. Moreover, Gobert is perfectly designed to play off dynamic isolation players like LeBron and Kyrie Irving. It’d be scary.
Denim Millward: I was nearly going to pencil in Hayward or Favors here, but my answer is Rudy Gobert. He provides the most unique skill and is the biggest game-changer on Utah. Imagine plugging him in on the Cavs!
Matt Pacenza: Gordon Hayward on the Clippers. The Warriors and Cavs are closer to a title, but the Clips have so little depth and quality beyond their Big Three. Adding a near-All Star wing on both ends of the floor feels like the perfect addition. The rich man’s Matt Barnes combined with a steadier Jamal Crawford, basically.
Dakota Schmidt: Rudy Gobert with Cleveland. As we’ve seen in the first few games of the Chicago series, the team doesn’t have any notable bigs that could stop somebody like Pau Gasol.
David J. Smith: Rudy Gobert. With heightened scouting and a much higher level of intensity, stout and effective defense becomes even more vital in the postseason. Gobert’s length, quickness, intuition and ability to cover so much ground on defense truly causes opponents to alter game plans. Chances are his confidence would also make him a smooth customer in the Playoffs. Gobert would help each team, but of the remaining ones, Washington sticks out.
3. If the Jazz had made the playoffs, which player would have been the biggest surprise in terms of on court production?
Clint Johnson: Trey Burke. Give an elite Warriors defense time to game plan and they’d make Gordon Hayward’s life miserable. Favors would contribute about what he did in the regular season, while I would expect less than season-average production from the rest of a very young and inexperienced team. I could see Trey ringing up three 20-point games while being swept.
Denim Millward: Dante Exum. Dante is still more or less a baby (if not a fetus) in pro basketball experience terms. The more established players on this team are beginning to become consistent, and a playoff push would’ve had to entail someone coming from out of nowhere.
Matt Pacenza: I ended the year pretty intrigued by Bryce Cotton, on a team starved for point guard offense and pace. I’m going to speculate that after Trey shot 4-13 a couple games and teams refused to guard Dante and packed the paint, Cotton would have darted into playing 4th Q playoff minutes for the young Jazz.
Dakota Schmidt: I definitely think Rodney Hood could have made a bigger on-court impact than he did during the regular season.
David J. Smith: Rodney Hood. Though a rookie, Hood plays with a maturity beyond his years and would probably adjust to a postseason atmosphere quickly. With defenses honing in on his more celebrated teammates, Hood would have some open looks. His litany of offensive moves that produce nice floaters and midrange jumpers would also come in quite handy.
4. What is your favorite Jazz playoff moment?
Clint Johnson: “John Stockton sends the Utah Jazz to the NBA Finals!” I won’t even pretend to be original — beyond adding that the best part of the best moment in Jazz history was Bill Walton’s ponderous “Uh oh!” when Stockton caught the ball with room to shoot.
Denim Millward: “Stockton…open…three….yeah! John Stockton sends the Utah Jazz to the NBA finals!” I still watch that clip at least 500 times a year, whenever I’m feeling down.
Matt Pacenza: I moved to Salt Lake and Jazz fandom nine years ago, so my playoff memories are defined by the Williams-Boozer era. I was in the arena for May 9, 2007, aka the Fisher-off-the-plane game. A terrific night (the Jazz won in overtime over the Warriors after Deron hit a game-tying jumper) brought to the next level by Fisher’s family drama.
Dakota Schmidt: Since I only have around 15 years of watching the NBA, I’d probably lean towards that ‘06-‘07 Jazz team.
David J. Smith: My fan card might rescinded should I not say Stockton’s shot versus Houston, the greatest moment in franchise history. Beyond the play itself, two things stick out. First, #12 simply took over the game those final minutes, truly one of the most dominant individual performances I can recall. Second, the sheer emotion that ensued afterward. The hug between the Big Three, the bench erupting and Sloan’s reaction were all priceless.
5. What did you do after the Jazz lost in the finals to the Bulls?
Clint Johnson: Depressed, both times. But honestly, the 1995 Rockets loss was worse. I was 14 and watched the game with extended family. When the first 60-win Jazz team succumbed to the lower seed (and eventual champion), I fled the house, wandered the streets, and eventually passed out on some law firm’s lawn. My frantic family found me several hours later.
Denim Millward: Turned off the TV immediately and cried a lot. Went and shot hoops in the driveway for an obscene amount of time. I actually think I may have thrown up too. Where’s that John Stockton game winner clip?
Matt Pacenza: I celebrated. I was living in New Orleans while my wife went to graduate school and I loved the Bulls and Jordan. Not sure it was that exact night, but one playoff game in that run I watched alongside film star Forrest Whitaker at the Maple Leaf.
Dakota Schmidt: I probably slept since I was about 3 or 4 years old when those NBA Finals games were happening.
David J. Smith: After nearly a decade of waiting, hoping and wishing, both of Utah’s trips to the NBA Finals ironically occurred while I was in Japan for two years. Had I been in the states, I can only imagine the devastation and depression that I would have experienced more fully. The recovery might still be ongoing today.