SALT LAKE CITY — It’s sort of amazing as well as disheartening to many Utah Jazz followers that despite winning 11 straight games, the team hasn’t budged from the No. 10 spot in the NBA’s Western Conference over the past four weeks.
That is quite deceiving, however, as the Jazz are nipping at the heels of five other teams and could very well pass one or two of them in the next week or so. If things go really well for the Jazz, they could move up to as high as the No. 5 spot by the end of the season in mid-April.
Utah is just two and a half games behind Oklahoma City, the fifth-place team in the Western Conference standings. The Jazz are also only one game behind ninth-place Los Angeles Clippers and one and a half behind eighth-place New Orleans.
After suffering through that horrendous December schedule when they were saddled with the toughest month in the entire NBA, the Jazz are now blessed with one of the most favorable slates in the whole league going forward.
The Jazz have 14 of their 24 remaining games at home, as many as any other team in the Western Conference, and just 13 against winning teams, fewer than any of the five teams directly ahead of them in the standings. The Clippers have 19 games against winning teams, while Portland, Denver and New Orleans have 17. So things are very positive schedule-wise for the Jazz as they head into the final stretch of the season.
After more than a week off for the All-Star break, the Jazz get going again Friday night with a home game against Portland, followed by a game with Dallas the following night and two more home games next week.
With the Clippers playing three straight road games, including Golden State and Denver, followed by a game against Houston, and New Orleans playing Miami, Milwaukee and San Antonio, the Jazz could pass both teams by the end of next week with a good homestand.
Here is a look at the remaining schedule, broken up into segments and what the Jazz likely need to do to make the playoffs for the second year in a row.
FEB. 23-MARCH 2: The Jazz have four straight home games with Houston and Minnesota coming to town next week for a pair of tough games against the No. 1 and 4 teams in the conference. With three games against playoff teams, the Jazz could split the games and should be happy to come out of the homestand with three wins.
MARCH 3-11: Four of the five are road games, beginning with a Saturday night game at Sacramento with a three-game road trip the following week at Indiana, Memphis and New Orleans. A home game against Orlando is sandwiched in the middle. The Jazz ought to win half those road games and go 3-2.
March 12-21: Probably the easiest stretch of the season with four straight games against Detroit, Phoenix, Sacramento and Atlanta, the latter three, among the league’s worst. This should be a 4-0 week for Utah.
MARCH 22-30: The Jazz hit the road for a three-game set to Dallas, San Antonio and Golden State, followed by home games against Boston and Memphis. Playing at San Antonio on a back to back will be tough and Boston is one of the East’s best. A 3-2 mark here would be positive.
APRIL 1-12: The April portion of the schedule includes three home games and three road games. The April 1 game at Minnesota and season finale at Portland will be challenging as will the Warriors game on April 10. In between are two games against the Lakers, one at home and one on the road and a home game against the Clippers, so a 3-3 mark in this stretch is likely.
Of course there will be upsets along the way — the Jazz will lose a game or two against non-playoff teams and they have proved they can beat the league’s top teams on the road, which could happen again. Also, another injury to a top player could throw a wrench into the Jazz season as it did earlier.
But with the way they’ve played lately and with a favorable schedule, the Jazz could very well end up with 45 or 46 wins, which would make them a shoo-in for the playoffs.