It is now six games past the midway point of the NBA season, and time for the traditional State of the Jazz address. By most indications (during this All-Star break) the Good Ship Jazz is rolling along, steady as she goes. But that doesn't mean there aren't problems. At times, the ship appears to be making headway in stormy seas. Other times, it seems to be taking on water.
If anything distinguishes the Jazz so far, it is their ability to surprise. They can beat Portland, Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix and San Antonio, yet lose to Minnesota, Orlando, Miami, Indiana and Denver.Truly, this is a team for the philosophers and theorists.
Team owner Larry H. Miller says he is basically pleased with the product, considering the circumstances. "I feel we are on course," said Miller. "We've had a couple of little lapses. But all in all, I feel pretty good. "
Miller continued, "Last year we were on a roll just about now. We peaked early. We want to peak at the end. But I'd have to say I'll settle for where we are. We're a little less polished, we have a little less cohesiveness than we hope to have, but we're still playing well. Maybe we'll save the best for the year's end."
Taking the big wins, surprise losses and history-making trip to Japan into consideration, here is a look at how the Jazz are faring as they move into the second half of the season.
Wins and Losses
After 47 games a year ago, the Jazz were 33-14, heading toward a 55-win season. This year they are only 31-16, two games behind last year's pace. Last year, the Jazz had played 22 road games at this stage, of which the Jazz won 11; this year there have been 22, with the Jazz winning 10.
Perhaps most discouraging to the Jazz this year has been who they've been losing to on the road. Already they've been defeated by Orlando, Denver, Indiana, Miami and Minnesota in away games. At this time last year, the worst team they had lost to on the road was Houston or Atlanta.
At home, where the Jazz are 21-4, their record has been impressive, including the aforementioned wins over Phoenix, Detroit, Los Angeles, Portland, Philadelphia and San Antonio.
The big test for the Jazz the second half will be whether they can win against good teams on the road. So far, they haven't proven they can. Of their 10 road wins, nine have come against teams with losing records. In fact, the only road victory over a winning team - Phoenix - was a designated "road game" in Tokyo.
Not counting Phoenix, the aggregate record for teams Utah has beaten on the road is 118-252.
After a slow start, the Jazz continue at a pace slightly below last year's in several keyareas. As a team, their .489 shooting percentage is a little below last year's .505 (for the whole season). Last year the Jazz out-rebounded their opponents by an average of almost three per game. This year's team is being only slightly out-rebounded (1,958 to 1,960). In turnovers, the Jazz are averaging 16.7, compared to 17.1 for last season. On free throws, the Jazz's .777 pace is two percentage points ahead of last year. And from three-point range, the Jazz's .336 pace is two percentage points behind last year.
Lastly, the Jazz are trailing last year's team in scoring, however slightly. They are averaging 104.6 points a game, compared to 106.8 all last year. However, the Jazz are holding opponents to a 100.7 average, compared to 102 points last season.
Both years the Jazz have been remarkably fortunate in the injury department. Last year John Stockton missed four games due to illness, but that was about the sum of it. This year, starter Blue Edwards has missed four and Jeff Malone seven thanks to injuries.
Malone's groin pull could have serious effect on the team if it doesn't heal soon. "With Jeff hurt, we've had some tremendous efforts by the others, so I feel pretty good," said Miller.
At least a couple of the Jazz's key matchups are winding down already. Utah has played three of five scheduled games against San Antonio and three of four against Phoenix - two of their prime rivals in the West.
Overall, the Jazz have 16 home games and 19 on the road remaining. Division-leading San Antonio has 17 home games remaining and 20 on the road.
In the final month of the season, the Jazz play seven home games and five on the road; the Spurs will have five at home and seven on the road. In that time, San Antonio must face the Lakers, Golden State, Phoenix and Portland, while the Jazz play the Lakers twice, Phoenix and Golden State. It could be another tape-measure finish to see who wins the division title.
Although the effects of the Jazz's trip to Japan may be debated for years, there is no doubt in Coach Jerry Sloan's mind what the effects were. The Jazz returned home to play five of their next seven games on the road. But after going 2-5, they came back to go 29-11 the rest of the way. "Those guys had to work hard to get to the position they're in," said Sloan. "That extra 20,000 miles or whatever it was, was tough on those guys. They hit the middle of the season long before the other teams did."