Ben AndersonSportsUtah Jazz

Jazz Decimate Kings In Battle Of Shorthanded Teams

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz set a franchise record scoring 154 points in their 49 point blowout over the Sacramento Kings.

Both teams were shorthanded as the Jazz entered the game without either Donovan Mitchell or Mike Conley, while the Kings were without De’Aaron Fox and Harrison Barnes.

With Mitchell and Conley out of the lineup, Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson led the Jazz in scoring with 24 and 23 points apiece, while the Kings were led by Richaun Holmes’ 18 points.

Jazz Show How They Can Win And Lose In Playoffs

Over the last two games, the Jazz showed exactly how they could win a championship, or lose in the first round of the playoffs.

On Monday night, despite playing well against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Jazz missed a staggering 41 three-point attempts and lost 105-104.

Then, against the Kings, the Jazz again played well and set franchise records in both total points and their biggest margin of victory by way of making 24 of their 41 three-point attempts.

What might scare fans is how easily the Jazz strung together these two seemingly polar opposite performances.

“I’m probably in the minority, but I actually thought we played well [Monday] night,” Quin Snyder said about the Jazz loss to Minnesota. “We didn’t shoot well.”

The Jazz don’t have a LeBron James, an Anthony Davis, or a Kawhi Leonard on the roster. Those are three of just a handful of players in the NBA that can take over a game on both ends of the floor and carry their team to a postseason victory.

As result, the Jazz have had to rely on the defensive presence of Rudy Gobert while hoping to make enough shots on most nights to win a seven-game playoff series. For most of the season, it has worked.

The Jazz take the most threes in the NBA, they make the most threes in the NBA, and they shoot the third best percentage of any team in the NBA. When the shots fall, they look like legitimate contenders to win their first title.

When they miss, they can lose to the worst teams in the NBA.

“At certain times this is a make or miss league,” Snyder said. “The real challenge is to win when you’re not hitting shots and that’s something we’ve talked about all year.”

Luckily for the Jazz, they’ve set a relatively low bar for success when it comes to making or missing shots.

When the team connects on .357 percent of their threes or more, they’re 38-7 on the season. When they shoot below .357, they’re just 8-10.

Though they’ve set an achievable shooting mark, they must also avoid going cold in the most important postseason games.

Just three seasons ago the Houston Rockets had an opportunity to eliminate the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals but proceeded to miss 27 consecutive three-point shots in the critical Game Seven to end their season and close their championship window.

The Jazz are playing a similar game to the Rockets and are hoping to avoid stepping on a landmine of missed threes as the worst possible time.

Jazz Get Much Needed Breakout Performances

With neither Conley nor Mitchell in the lineup, the Jazz probably needed at least two players to have big performances to down the shorthanded Kings.

What they got instead was breakout performances from seemingly every player in the rotation.

Eight Jazz players scored in double figures led by Bogdanovic and Clarkson who struggled miserably in the team’s loss to Minnesota. On Monday, the two scorers combined for just 20 points on 6-31 shooting including 2-17 from the three-point line. The Jazz were -6 with Bogdanovic on the floor and a net-zero with Clarkson.

Against the Kings, they combined for 47 points on 15-30 shooting, including 5-12 from deep while the Jazz outscored Sacramento by 37 with Bogdanovic on the floor and 31 with Clarkson playing.

Like the team’s three-point shooting, the Jazz won’t reach their ultimate goal without big performances from both Bogdanovic and Clarkson. They don’t need to be spectacular every night, but Mitchell and Conley will need high-scoring nights from the supporting scorers in the postseason if the Jazz want to play into June and July.

The Jazz also got bounce-back nights from Joe Ingles and Derrick Favors who were nearly non-existent against Minnesota, while seeing a true breakout performance from the recently acquired Matt Thomas.

The Iowa State product scored 17 points in nine minutes on a perfect 7-7 shooting including 3-3 from deep. The Jazz shouldn’t plan on seeing much of either Thomas or Ersan Ilyasova (six points, 2-2 FG in 24 minutes) in the postseason, but both players have now proven that in a pinch they could add value to a cold shooting team in a playoff game if need be.

Suns Rising

While the Jazz were busy manhandling the Kings, the Phoenix Suns continued to take care of business against some of the best teams in the NBA.

On April 19, the Jazz held a 1.5 game lead over the Suns with five upcoming games against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Houston Rockets, the Timberwolves twice, and the Kings.

The Suns meanwhile faced an intimidating gauntlet against the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, and Los Angeles Clippers.

The Jazz managed to go 3-2 in the stretch which isn’t bad considering they didn’t have Mitchell for any of the five games, but it wasn’t enough to extend their lead over the red hot Suns.

Phoenix went a surprising 4-2 during one of the toughest stretches of games any team will face this season and actually made up a half-game against the Jazz during the streak.

Now, the two teams will faceoff in Phoenix on Friday with a chance for the Suns to pass the Jazz for the best record in the NBA via a tie-breaker. Since they are likely to be shorthanded once again, it seems like the Jazz will return to Utah without the best record in the NBA for the first time since February 1.

All hope for the top spot in the NBA at the season’s end isn’t lost for the Jazz, however. Here’s how the final nine games shake out for each team after they face one another Friday.

Jazz: 

vs. Toronto (Fighting for play-in tournament)

vs. San Antonio (Fighting for play-in tournament)

vs. San Antonio (Fighting for play-in tournament)

vs. Denver (Fighting for playoff seeding)

vs. Houston (Tanking)

@ Golden State (Fighting for play-in tournament)

vs. Portland (Fighting for play-in tournament)

@ Oklahoma City (Tanking)

@ Sacramento (No Playoff Hope)

Suns:

@ Oklahoma City (Tanking)

@ Cleveland (Tanking)

@ Atlanta (Fighting for playoff seeding)

vs. New York (Fighting for playoff seeding)

@ Los Angeles Lakers (Fighting for playoff seeding)

@ Golden State (Fighting for play-in tournament)

vs. Portland (Fighting for play-in tournament)

@ San Antonio (Fighting for play-in tournament)

@ San Antonio (Fighting for play-in tournament)

In total, the Jazz will play six of their nine games against teams vying for a playoff spot, though only one of those games (Denver) is against a team that will guarantee themselves a spot in a seven-game first-round series.

Their games against Toronto, San Antonio, Golden State, and Portland will come against teams that could make the playoffs but will have to win games in the play-in tournament to qualify for a first-round playoff series.

Two of the teams the Jazz will face are tanking (Thunder and Rockets) while they’ll face the Kings in the final game of the season who have nothing to play for.

Of the final nine games, six will be played in Salt Lake City.

The Suns’ final stretch features several of the same teams as the Jazz, though seven of their nine games will be played away from home.

Phoenix will play three teams fighting for actual playoff seeding (Hawks, Knicks, Lakers) and four games against teams jockeying to earn a spot in the play-in tournament (Warriors, Trail Blazers, and Spurs 2x).

If the Jazz can surprise the Suns and win in Phoenix it would go a long way towards clinching the top spot in the West, otherwise, they’re in for a dog fight over the final nine games of the season.

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