SALT LAKE CITY — Back home on Wednesday to face Orlando, the Jazz will hit the season’s midway point under fair to partly cloudy skies. That’s not a weather forecast, it’s a condition.
The Jazz have yet to reveal what they’ll be in 2019. But soon there should be some clues. Eight of the next nine games are at home. Of those eight opponents, just three have winning records. Two have 10 or fewer wins.
Orlando is in 10th place in the East. The Jazz host the Lakers on Friday, with LeBron James possibly out with an injury. Then comes 10-win Chicago on Saturday.
All this bodes well for the Jazz, whose second-half schedule should be easier. Twenty-three of the Jazz’s 41 games have been against teams that had winning records going into this week. Just 18 of their remaining 41 opponents had .500 or better records.
Utah has already played 61 percent of its road games, which means just 16 remain. All others in the Western Conference began the week with at least 20 road trips ahead.
The Jazz’s front-loaded schedule has given rise to hope they can repeat what they did in the second half of last season, i.e. set the league ablaze. Last year they went 26-6 in the final three months. Donovan Mitchell was a wonder, Rudy Gobert a menace and Joe Ingles a surprise.
Second verse, same as the first, right?
This year’s team has yet to win more than three consecutive games, and hasn’t done that since early November. If the Jazz continue at the pace they’re on, they’ll finish with 40 wins. Last year that was seven games shy of the playoffs.
This season, several things have complicated the Jazz’s mission:
The Los Angeles Lakers. In 2017-18, the Lakers won just 35 games and missed the playoffs. This year they added James, and until he was sidelined by a recent groin injury, the Lakers were thriving. After that they lost five of seven.
But once King James returns, so will the Lakers.
Donovan’s decrease: Mitchell’s traditional stats are virtually the same as last season, but he’s not as dominant. His effective field goal percentage is well below last year.
Opponents are playing him more physically, picking him up earlier and keeping him farther from the rim. But don’t expect it to be a permanent problem. Perspective and ability to adjust are two of his strengths.
Whether he can make that adjustment on the fly is another matter. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton thinks it will happen, listing Mitchell among the stars who will play better in the second half.
Home worries. Encouraged as the Jazz might be about their home-heavy schedule, they’re just 8-8 at Vivint Arena so far. By this date last year, they had won 13 of 20.
With 25 of their next 41 games at home, guarding the palace is the only sure way to protect the kingdom.
Tuning out Quin Snyder. The Jazz coach is among the NBA’s best, having kept the Jazz respectable, and even dangerous, without a single All-Star. He is in his fifth season leading the team. That’s far fewer than Jerry Sloan’s 23.
Snyder is no Sloan when it comes to halftime rants. That’s a good thing with today’s players. But as one long-ago Jazz player once said, over time they stop listening. Are the Jazz starting to tune Snyder out?
Sloan’s impassioned rants eventually lost momentum. With Snyder, the bigger question is whether there’s such a thing as information overload.
Injuries. Four players were out or went down in Monday’s loss to Milwaukee. Before then, the Jazz had missed just 35 player-games this year. That’s fewer than all but four NBA teams, according to Man-Games Lost.
Half the absences this year were Raul Neto.1 comment on this story
No starter has missed more than four games, yet the Jazz are only three wins ahead of last year’s pace — when Rudy Gobert was injured. Historically, the Jazz have had high injury rates. They have missed the seventh-most player-games since 2015-16, according to MGL. Can they avoid an injury siege this season?
On Monday, Dante Exum, Thabo Sefolosha and Grayson Allen were out with injuries and Ricky Rubio left in the first quarter with a hamstring pull. Are thunderclouds forming? Things will be hard enough even if they stay healthy, but their playoff hopes rest upon it.