Will the Utah Jazz still finish 1st in the West?

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Just one or two weeks ago, it felt like a lock that the Utah Jazz would finish the season 1st in the Western Conference. Something they haven’t done since 1998. Even with the injury to Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz had enough talent against the softest part of their schedule to comfortably close the season atop the West.

Suddenly that is severely in jeopardy.

Back to back losses to the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves added to the rest-filled loss to the short-handed LA Lakers, and just like that the Jazz may not be the front-runners they once were.

Let’s take a quick look at the remaining schedules for the 3 most likely to take the 1 seed headed into the playoffs.

Utah Jazz

Phoenix Suns

  • 4/28 vs. LA Clippers (.683)
  • 4/30 vs. Utah Jazz (.721)
  • 5/2 @ Oklahoma City Thunder (.328)
  • 5/4 @ Cleveland Cavaliers (.344)
  • 5/5 @ Atlanta Hawks (.548)
  • 5/7 vs. New York Knicks (.548)
  • 5/9 @ Los Angeles Lakers (.590)
  • 5/11 @ Golden State Warriors (.508)
  • 5/13 vs. Portland Trail Blazers (.533)
  • 5/15 @ San Antonio Spurs (.517)
  • 5/16 @ San Antonio Spurs (.517)

LA Clippers

  • 4/28 @ Phoenix Suns (.705)
  • 5/1 vs. Denver Nuggets (.656)
  • 5/4 vs. Toronto Raptors (.426)
  • 5/6 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (.590)
  • 5/9 vs. New York Knicks (.548)
  • 5/11 @ Toronto Raptors (.426)
  • 5/13 @ Charlotte Hornets (.500)
  • 5/14 @ Houston Rockets (.246)
  • 5/16 @ Oklahoma City Thunder (.328)

Currently, the Jazz have a 1.0 game lead on the Suns and a 2.0 lead on the Clippers. Those 2 teams playing each other tomorrow does help significantly, as one has to take home a loss. The Jazz also have 7 home games left, where they are darn near unbeatable unless you are the Timberwolves. Utah also has the weakest schedule remaining according to multiple metrics.

So a lot is going in Utah’s favor with what is left in this season. But. They are also missing their star player in Donovan Mitchell for at least another week or more. And they need him terribly. The Jazz scored just 14 points in the 2nd quarter last night. They scored just 18 and 16 in quarters 2 and 3 in the previous game. They are really missing Donovan’s shot creation and offensive firepower. They really don’t have anyone else with the athleticism to consistently take their own guy off the dribble.

538 still has the Jazz as the odds on favorite to be atop the West, projecting them to finish 52-20. The Suns are at 50-22 and the Clippers are at 49-23. We’ll see how it plays out, but where I was really confident I’m now pretty weary. If the Suns beat the Clippers tomorrow they’ll potentially be in position to overtake the Jazz in their upcoming matchup. One that will likely be without Donovan Mitchell.

Now, is the sky falling? Of course not. Does 1st vs 2nd truly matter in the end? Probably not, because you can’t control what’s happening below you anyways. And this poor stretch of 6-6 in their last 12 is certainly due to an exhausting schedule and then losing Donovan Mitchell. They are still one of the best teams in the league and a legitimate contender when healthy.

So let’s get them healthy for the playoffs. And if they are able to maintain their position as the overall leader in the NBA, then even better (because let’s be honest, that would feel pretty great). Hopefully the losses to the Timberwolves served as a good wakeup call to start fine tuning things for a deep playoff run.