It was the noted roundball poet Alexander Pope who said, “Blessed is the fan who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”
And it was the hoop-habits-guru Stephen Covey who said, “Treat a team as it is and it will remain as it is. Treat a team as it can and should be and it will become as it can and should be.”
Something like that.
In a Jazz season of undulating expectations — they were high, they weren’t so high, now maybe they’ll undulate again. Upward, from disappointment to what they can and should be.
Yeah, the Jazz had their infamous 29-6 finish last season, and a second-round playoff appearance. By way of their inaction during the offseason, signaling and confirming great anticipation and perhaps contentment, management tilted anticipation’s junk drawer even more, causing all the tacks and staples, erasers and paperclips to slide quicker, at a steeper angle, into a corner of optimism. After all, if the front office was excited and almost-satisfied, treating the team as it could and should be, then why wouldn’t everybody else?
Here’s why: The Jazz aren’t yet quite good enough.
They’re good and they’re fun to watch and they’re well coached and they play defense on their better nights like the Steel Curtain era Steelers and they utilize a refreshing brand of team ball, but …
They aren’t quite talented enough on offense.
That’s much easier to say now, with a larger sample size, than it was before the season’s opening tip. A lot of basketball-ologists around the country thought the Jazz could be the second-best team in the West, behind You-Know-Who. And I bought into the positivity, too, having predicted 55 wins for the Jazz.
Fifty-seven games in, they have 32 wins against 25 losses — with 25 games to play. They presently sit in sixth place in the West. The All-Star break ends this week as the Jazz reassemble on Wednesday and commence their stretch run on Friday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that is in third place.
Upon up-down-and-now-updated review, what is the realistic expectation for the Jazz over the next seven weeks?
Optimism. In part, because the Jazz tend to accelerate as the season goes on. In part, because the easiest closing schedule in the West opens the throttle for that acceleration.
Breaking down the final 25, the Jazz have 13 home games and 12 roadies. They have nine games against opponents who currently are playoff teams, 16 against non-playoff outfits, 12 of which aren’t within shouting distance of playoff qualification.
Keep an eye on the games immediately out of the break. Three of the first five come against not just playoff teams, but quality opponents that will be difficult to beat — the Thunder and the Nuggets on the road and the Bucks at home.
If the Jazz face down that challenge, and even if they don’t, they find themselves in most favorable status for what comes thereafter — about as marshmallowy a stretch as any playoff contender could hope for. They play the Pelicans twice, the Grizzlies, the Suns, the Timberwolves, the Wizards, the Knicks, the Hawks, the Bulls, the Suns, the Wizards, and the Suns, again. Over that soft span are mixed in the Thunder, the Nets, the Lakers and the Hornets, all at Vivint Arena.
A reasonable projection through the entire 25-game period, then, is 18 victories. That would put the Jazz at 50 wins, which given their slow start would be rather satisfying for them.
Here’s the negative Frac to that positive Fric — no matter where the Jazz end up, as long as it isn’t eighth in the West, having to face the ridiculous task of beating the Warriors in the postseason’s opening round, they will be burdened with a difficult charge. Who would they most want to play … the Rockets? No. The Thunder? No. The Nuggets? No. The Blazers? Not if the Jazz play the way they did against Portland the last two times out. The Spurs? Maybe.
All the Jazz can do now is operate at their peak condition. If they do, this season can still be an advancement and fulfilling for those with all those lofty expectations back at the beginning. They won’t win the West, which even the most optimistic never supposed. But they can be … good. A solid good.
A good upon which they can build in the offseason, if they will, becoming the team they can and should be, not because anyone on the outside treated them that way, but because a number of somebodies on the inside made them so.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.