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Why the Jazz Will Out-Perform Their Expectations

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Bleacher Report recently released a story predicting the record that each NBA team will have at the end of the upcoming season. While the records of teams like the Lakers, Warriors, and Raptors aren’t out there by any means, some might think that Bleacher Report noting they think the Jazz will win 51 games says more than you might think. Sure, Donovan Mitchell’s stellar rookie season was great to watch but the question a lot of people are rightfully asking is if he can do it again.

The article truthfully points out that the offense was far too dependent on what Mitchell was contributing. And while that might be the case with a lot of smaller market teams with a star or superstar, the load Mitchell had to bear was too much when the Jazz clashed with the Rockets in round two of the post-season. If the 51-win prediction did come to pass, that would put them on the same bar as Oklahoma City for the second time in a row, as they are also projected to win 51 games. This puts the Jazz right in the mix of the top of the Western Conference, as the only teams in the conference with a better projected win total are Houston (55) and Golden State (60).

In my opinion, the Jazz are absolutely capable of hitting the 51-win threshold, but I don’t see the top dog in the conference winning 60 games because of how strong that side of the NBA will be in the upcoming season. I think the Jazz, along with Houston, Golden State, Oklahoma City and New Orleans, will all hover around the 53 and 54-win markers while it’s hard to exactly gauge how good the new-look, LeBron-led Lakers will actually be.

However, even based on the projections from Bleacher Report as is, the only team that really gave the Jazz trouble when it mattered was Houston. In three out of four runs against the Warriors, Utah absolutely demolished the champs from three of the last four seasons. And that’s no disrespect to the Warriors, but rather a way to show just how good this Jazz team can be with Donovan Mitchell running the show.

Utah will continue to be one of the best defensive teams in the league, and they kind of have to be in order to balance out their consistent need for Mitchell to drop buckets. The Jazz will host the Warriors on Oct. 19 for their home opener and it will be a game where Utah will be able to make a statement as to what kind of year it is going to be. Hopefully the momentum and energy from their games against each other last season will carry over for the Jazz, but ultimately it’s their biggest chance to show the rest of the league that they need to be taken seriously.

They brought back Dante Exum, Raul Neto and Derrick Favors as well over the summer — keeping them one of the more consistent teams in the league when considering organizations that could have or should have seen the most change. There is a method to the madness of picking the Jazz, but it all comes down to whether or not they can come through in a couple of key areas.

Looking at the standings from last season, it won’t take long to see that they were under .500 on the road (20-21). This isn’t something to get too worried about, but if you were looking for the most obvious room for improvement, getting more wins away from Salt Lake City will prove to be crucial as crunch time approaches. Also, division rivals Minnesota and Denver had a winner-take-all scenario because of the fact that the division they share did so well last season and it left the talented Nuggets on the outside looking in.

Utah is obviously well aware of the divisional competition they have to deal with, but keeping their head above water takes more than just wishful thinking. Portland was a good match up for the Jazz last season, and they too had a winner-take-all scenario in the regular season finale against each other with the Blazers getting nothing but an early exit via New Orleans. They will be looking to make an even bigger statement next season, in addition to the fact that Oklahoma City might have actually gotten a lot better over the summer by dumping Carmelo Anthony.

Everyone else’s biggest concern is Golden State, while that is far from Utah’s. Their biggest stumbling block is themselves, and by that I mean any time that they let a winnable game slip away from them it’ll come back to bite. All in all, if the Jazz can prove worthy of coming out of their division alive, that in itself deserves a good amount of credit. But we have to keep our expectations tamed, because this same team a year ago went 19-28 before they caught fire.

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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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