The NBA is back, and the Western Conference is looking even more stacked than last year. The glamour division of the Pacific looks to be the standout of the association, with a strong possibility of sending four teams to the postseason. The second-best division in the west this year will be the Northwest. They might not be as strong top to bottom, but they’ll have their moments featuring players like Damian Lillard, Nikola Jokić, and Donovan Mitchell.
Why are the Utah Jazz seen as a contender? Last year Mitchell and the Utah Jazz surprised everyone by running through the west in the regular season, only to come up short when it mattered in the playoffs. The Jazz had the Clippers where they wanted them in the second round, up 2-0, only to lose the next four games in a heartbreaking elimination.
The Jazz will bring back the bulk of their key contributors from last year’s run for the 2021-22 campaign. They also went out and snagged a few new players they hope will pay big dividends and help them get over the hump this year. Utah added players like Rudy Gay, who can still get buckets when called upon, former Warriors forward Eric Paschall (dirty work guy), and rookie Jared Butler out of Baylor, who has the potential to give the Jazz big minutes off the bench. The team also added center Hassan Whiteside who should make for a decent backup to Rudy Gobert if he can stay healthy.
Here’s why the Jazz will disappoint this year: Everything seems to be lining up perfectly for the Jazz to make another run at the number one seed in the western conference. Not so quickly. The NBA won’t be caught off guard by the Jazz this time. They were the sixth seed in the west two seasons ago and jumped up six to number one last season. Last season was shorter and began less than three months after the previous season.
This year the Jazz will go through the season with a target on their backs. No more sneaking up on teams. Every team out west will be geared up to play the Jazz because they were the number one team. Record wise the Jazz were the best team in the league, winning 52 games in a shortened 72-game season.
Utah caught lightning in a bottle, making the most three-point shots per game last season at 16.8. That will be much tougher to come by this year for the Jazz, and teams will focus more on chasing them off the perimeter, knowing what they want to do. The Jazz took advantage of a weird 20-21 season that saw so many stars get injured around the league. They swooped in and cleaned up the leftovers of all the broken, battered teams in the NBA. It’s hard to see them getting as many breaks this year.
Don’t read this the wrong way — I’m not saying they aren’t a playoff team, but it’s tough to envision them winning the most games in the league again and being the number one seed out west. I’m going to say they don’t win their division either, so I’ll take the Nuggets. Falling back into the four to six range is where the Jazz will likely end the season with a first-round elimination highly possible.
This Jazz team put the league on notice last year, then everyone noticed them fall off against the Clippers minus Kawhi Leonard. Utah needs to show us they can get the job done when they’re expected to. I just don’t think they’ll be able to live up to the bar they’ve set for themselves.