Can The Jazz Still Make The Playoffs?

Dec 5, 2023, 4:00 PM

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SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz are off to a slower start to the 2023-24 campaign than many had expected, begging the question, can they still make the playoffs?

The Jazz are 7-13 through the first 20 games of the season, including a 6-4 record at home, and a difficult 1-9 record on the road.

Now nearly a quarter of the way into the year, how likely are the Jazz to climb back into the Western Conference Playoff picture?

Will The Jazz Make The Playoffs?

Despite the Jazz’s less-than-ideal start to the season, it may come as a surprise that they currently sit just 2.5 games out of the ninth seed in the West.

With the NBA’s expanded play-in tournament which teams seeded 7-10 at the end of the regular season to compete for a playoff berth, the Jazz are still clearly in the hunt for postseason action.

But how likely are they to make up that ground, and what are the chances someone behind them leaps them in the Western Conference race?

The Argument In Favor Of The Jazz Making The Playoffs:

First, they haven’t been fully healthy since the regular season opener when second-year center Walker Kessler suffered an elbow strain against the Sacramento Kings.

Though he played through it, eventually he was forced to miss seven games to allow the elbow to heal.

Since returning, the Jazz own the third-best defensive rating in the NBA at 108.1, and have gone 3-2 over the last five games.

Additionally, the Jazz have been shorthanded even since Kessler returned, playing the last five games without All-Star Lauri Markkanen.

His return to the lineup should provide the Jazz a boost both on the court and emotionally, and help the team regain the offensive fluidity that has been missing in his absence.

Secondly, suppose rookie Keyonte George continues to develop at the rate he has during his first month as a starter. In that case, the Jazz should see gains in both talent and chemistry throughout the season and should be a better team by the end of the year compared to where they are through 20 games.

The Argument Against The Jazz Making The Playoffs:

Unfortunately for the Jazz, some of the numbers regarding their playoff odds simply aren’t favorable.

Over the last 10 seasons, only four Western Conference teams have started the year 7-13 and bounced back to finish in the top 10 of the regular season standings.

No team has done it since the advent of the play-in tournament in 2021, and none of the four teams that did bounce back to finish in the top climbed far enough to make the postseason.

Furthermore, there’s a strong argument to be made that the Jazz are more likely to get jumped by at least one team behind them in the standings than it is they jump one of the 11 teams currently ranked ahead of them.

The teams currently ranked 7-10 that would qualify for the play-in tournament if it started today are the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Clippers, and the Houston Rockets.

Both Los Angeles teams simply have more talented rosters than the Jazz, while the Rockets and Pelicans have has good, albeit far from flawless starts to the season.

But, even if one of those two teams was to fall back in the standings, the 11th-seeded Golden State Warriors will surely move up the standings by season’s end after dealing with a slew of injuries and suspensions to start the year.

To make matters worse, the argument for the Jazz improving throughout the year with better health and youthful development also applies to the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies who sit in seeds 13 and 14 in the West.

Anfernee Simons has appeared in just one game for the Trail Blazers this season but is expected back in the lineup at any moment. Like Markkanen, the guard will give Portland a considerable boost on offense and provide veteran experience to the roster.

Add in the expected growth of third-overall pick Scoot Henderson, and the Trail Blazers could close the season with a better team than their 6-13 record would imply.

Memphis, meanwhile, will welcome back superstar guard Ja Morant on December 19 after being suspended for the first 25 games of the season, and will try to make a mad dash to the postseason.

The Grizzlies owned the second-best record in the West last season with Morant in the lineup. and should be very competitive when he retakes the floor.

To make matters worse, the Jazz schedule won’t get easier over the final 62 games of the year.

According to Tankathon, the Jazz have the third toughest schedule remaining as they try to climb back into the playoff picture.

What Do Playoff Predictions Look Like?

As of early December, two major NBA playoff predictors do not like the Jazz’s chances of making the postseason.

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Jazz the third-worst odds of making the playoffs in the West at only 0.2 percent.

Basketball-Reference has a slightly rosier outlook, giving the Jazz a 0.3 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason, edging the Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, and San Antonio Spurs.

Should The Jazz Try To Make The Playoffs?

Further complicating the conversation is whether the Jazz want to make the playoffs or not.

Let’s be clear, before the season, Jazz CEO Danny Ainge definitively said the team wanted to make the postseason.

While it is unlikely that the goal has changed in the first 20 games of the season, there are extenuating circumstances that muddy the issue.

Namely, if the Jazz finish the season with one of the 20 best records in the NBA, their first-round draft pick belongs to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

If the Jazz fail to qualify for the Play-In Tournament, they’ll guarantee themselves another lottery-level draft selection, and a chance to add a talented young player to their rebuilding roster.

Ultimately, it’s too early for the Jazz, or the team’s fans to give up on their playoff hopes. But unless the team makes significant gains in December, another lottery berth appears to be on the horizon.

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Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.

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Can The Jazz Still Make The Playoffs?