SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz have their most enviable record of the last two decades as they head into the final eight games of the regular season. Still, with a top-three seed nearly guaranteed, uncertainly about their playoff future is everpresent.
The popular data analysis website FiveThirtyEight still projects the Jazz to finish the top record in the NBA, one game ahead of the Phoenix Suns. As does BasketballReference, though neither can predict the team’s health or desire to rest players over the final two weeks of the season.
The Jazz are tied with the Suns for the best record in the NBA, though would drop to second due to the season tie-breaker. They sit three games ahead of the surging Denver Nuggets, a team they’ll face on Friday without All-Star Donovan Mitchell, in a game whose winner will earn the year-end tiebreaker.
Of the three teams, the Jazz have by far the easiest remaining schedule of the group but lack a firm timetable on when they’ll be fully healthy. Those remaining questions have prevented the team from looking too far ahead into the playoff future.
“We certainly haven’t been in this specific situation,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of the team’s advantageous seeding. “I think there still is the uncertainty whether you’re going in your fifth or sixth and second or third.”
If the playoffs were to start today, the Jazz would be slotted in the second seed, but wouldn’t know who they were playing in the first round until the postseason play-in tournament has been conducted.
The seventh and eighth-seeded teams would have to face one another with the winner earning the higher seed. Then, after the ninth and tenth seeded teams faced off, the winner would earn the opportunity to play the loser of the seventh and eighth-seed matchup.
If the Jazz were to drop to third place in a first-round matchup with the sixth seed, who they would face today is unlikely who they are likely to face come mid-May.
Currently, the Los Angeles Lakers own the West’s sixth seed but are in a three-way tie with the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks at 36-28.
The Lakers have the toughest remaining schedule of the bunch, followed by Portland, then Dallas.
Based on past experience, Snyder knows all too well how difficult it can be to try to manipulate the final games of the season to dictate a playoff opponent.
“One year we had like a 0.1 percent chance of playing Houston and we ended up playing,” Snyder said. “You really can’t control who you’re going to play.”
The Jazz begin their final push with a two games series against the San Antonio Spurs, before hosting the Nuggets and Rockets, then head out on the road where they’ll three of their four final games.
Regardless of their final seeding, Snyder said he recognizes the Jazz won’t have an easy path through the playoffs.
“Because the West is so good, and has been so good, there’s always this clump of teams and seeding can change within a period of a couple of games,” Snyder said.
“I think you just have to focus on what you can do, and those other things, as they say, will take care of themselves.”
The Jazz and Spurs will tip-off tonight at 8 pm MT.