Jazz

The Most Important Game For the Jazz Every Month

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With the regular season not too far away, it’s time to consider which games mean the most for a team in the middle of the chaos like the Utah Jazz. Last season they found themselves one win shy of a top three finish in their conference, and it’ll take a full on war to have that same type of success now that they’re back on the map.

The backcourt of Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio will be the crux of how good this year’s Jazz team really is. Mitchell cannot afford to disappoint, and Rubio has to be there in the shortcomings to fill in the gaps and perhaps give the guard duo a bit of an energy and adrenaline boost when needed.

Joe Ingles and Derrick Favors will need to do all they can to help spread things out and also keep the other teams at bay. Rudy Gobert knows his job already as well, and it’s a good thing that this team isn’t still searching for an identity. With that being said, here’s a closer look at the most important games for the Jazz in every month of the regular season.

October

Photo Courtesy of NBA.com 

10/19 vs. Golden State

Nothing like the league pinning your home opener against the two-time defending champions in Golden State. It’s almost as if this will be the biggest test for the Jazz, as it will be a shot to their legitimacy, and it’ll happen early in the season on their home floor.

How this game goes determines a lot of things, but most importantly how the first month of the season goes in terms of tempo; and possibly beyond that. Utah beat Golden State in three of the four regular season games last season, including three consecutive games where it wasn’t even close.

Winning this particular game is not something to do or die over, but it would help. What will have the biggest after effect would be if they don’t come close to competing and the Warriors bang them up pretty badly. This will be a new-look Golden State team with big man DeMarcus Cousins now on the team, making their starting lineup consist of five All-Stars.

As long as the Jazz come out swinging, they’ll be ok. But expect this to be a foreshadowing of a potential late playoff series and also a preview of two of the top five teams in the best conference in basketball.

November

Photo Courtesy of NJ.com

11/16 @ Philadelphia

After going head-to-head in running for last year’s Rookie of the Year award, this will be where Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell meet again. Simmons looks to take Philadelphia to new heights without LeBron James in the conference, while Donovan Mitchell needs to do all he can to keep the Jazz at the top of the Western Conference.

Some dispute the legitimacy of Simmons’ rookie season, but now all of that conversation can be put aside and this game will give an idea going forward of who the better overall basketball player is. Not to mention that this game is also the third in a five game road trip for the Jazz that month.

These teams are almost a mirror in the sense that they are expected to do well, but their exact seeding in the conference is up for grabs. Talent wise, this match up goes so well together that this should be the one game anybody watches all season if they want to see the best young talent in the league go at it with reputation on the line.

December

Photo Courtesy of NBA.com

12/25 vs. Portland

The Jazz are so relevant this season that not only do they get a home opener against the Warriors on ESPN, but they also get a Christmas Day game against the team that beat them in the regular season finale to clinch the third seed in the Western Conference playoff picture.

Add to the mix the fact that Portland and Utah are already division rivals and this makes for a great game to watch during the holidays. After last season ended with a bitter bite of the dust thanks to a sweep at the hands of New Orleans, the Trail Blazers mulled over the thought of breaking up their star duo backcourt. That still hasn’t happened yet, and this could be the game where the Jazz solidify their opponents’ front office concerns that Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum can’t get it done in crunch time.

On the flip side, if the Jazz lose they will have to come to terms with the fact that this will probably be a very important game with regards to both squads and their final place in the playoff race.

January

Photo Courtesy of The Canadian Press

1/1 @ Toronto

What a sight the new-look Toronto Raptors will be with Kawhi Leonard in the lineup.

By this point in the season, we will know beyond a shadow of a doubt if the Raptors got the good or the bad version of Kawhi, and also how that impacts the rest of the league as a consequence of the trade involving DeMar DeRozan. Also at this point in the season we will have already seen these two teams square off in Salt Lake City, but by New Year’s Day the Raptors might be in a much better place and because of that be much harder to beat.

Especially at home.

One of the areas that the Jazz do need to improve on from a season ago is how they play on the road against quality opponents. There are a number of opportunities that they’ll have before this game to do that, but this game is even more important because it’ll tell us if the other wins were really because they’ve got a game plan that works or not. Toronto was the top seed last season even with James in the conference, so perhaps they can be even more difficult to beat with that giant hurdle now cleared.

But a win for the Jazz only proves the hype.

February 

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

2/22 @ Oklahoma City

A road game late in the season against the first round opponent they beat a season ago. Make sure that there are no other plans on this day, because these fireworks will be better than the fourth of July.

Tensions high because playoff seeding is on the line every game? Check.

Beef from last year’s post-season? Check.

Division rivals? Check.

Second year rookie dealing with a Carmelo Anthony-less team and Russell Westbrook back in takeover mode? Check.

The Thunder should be much better off after shedding Anthony, who ended up in Houston. Westbrook plays better the less there are stars around him, and Paul George has no problem playing second fiddle. If anything, Oklahoma City is the team that people should not be sleeping on but still choose to just because they got booted by Utah in the first round a year ago.

Do I really need to say anymore?

March

Photo Courtesy USA TODAY SPORTS

3/4 vs. New Orleans

The Pelicans surprised a lot of people in the playoffs last season. They made the postseason without DeMarcus Cousins and then went on to sweep Portland out after the Trail Blazers beat out Utah for the third overall seed. Next March, this game will get the last two months of regular season action started with a kick.

This will be a home game for the Jazz, but two days later they’ll be flying to New Orleans to do battle there, and a loss at home isn’t going to help their momentum and losing back-to-back’s against a team that will be right about the same tier as them won’t be a good look.

Of course, this is somewhat assuming that the seeding will be heavily impacted by both of these teams. If last year was any example, that is not a far-fetched assumption to make. It’s also safe to say that the Pelicans won’t be horribly different without Cousins, they had to deal with that last season and made the most of it, the better question will be if the Jazz are mentally ready at this point in the season or if things will start to slip.

This game will be the tell-tale sign of just that.

April

Photo Courtesy NBA.com

4/10 @ Los Angeles

The regular season finale cost the Jazz some seeding last year, but this season, the season finale will be more of the icing on the cake. Utah only plays six regular season games in the month of April, all of which are against teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year. With the exception of the Los Angeles Lakers, who added LeBron James in free agency, none of the other five games are against teams that are expected to make a run into the playoffs.

You could throw the Nuggets in the playoff conversation, but for the time being, they didn’t make it last season and there’s a lot to still sort out in the West before they’re a lock for anything. Aside from those two, the Jazz play Charlotte, Phoenix, Sacramento, and the Clippers.

Those are all winnable games, and if last season was any indication for Utah, the more opportunity they have to make up ground the better. Six easier than you’d expect type of games will help the Jazz climb the ladder in the standings. Depending on the rest of the eight seed makeup heading into this last game, the stress on beating the Clippers becomes only more emphasized.

If the Clippers aren’t in the playoff mix, they’d love to play spoiler and they’re a dangerous team to have your season end against, especially if the Jazz are needing a win to try and get into the playoffs or catch up to an obtainable spot in the standings at the last second.

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About Keith Rivas

Keith is based In Salt Lake City and covers the Jazz for TLSM. Follow him on Twitter @mrkeithrivas for all things Utah Jazz.

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