The past two seasons, Utah Jazz fans have wondered if the NBA’s schedule-makers have held some kind of grudge against their team, given some extremely road-heavy stretches during critical junctures of those campaigns.
Monday’s release of the 2019-20 schedule should do a bit to assuage those with conspiracy-minded dispositions.
The team will open the regular season at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Wednesday, Oct. 23 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The early-season schedule appears more balanced than in years past (the first 14 games are split evenly between road and home), though the team’s longest road trip of the season (five games), does come relatively early, beginning Nov. 25 in Milwaukee and wrapping Dec. 2 in Philadelphia.
Though the Jazz will lead the league in total miles traveled over the course of the season, they do play only 11 sets of back-to-back games this year, and those will at least be backloaded into the latter half of the team’s schedule, when the roster will presumably have had time to coalesce a bit. Seven of those back-to-back sets come after Jan. 29.
The toughest test actually comes at season’s end — in their limited April slate, the Jazz will take on six Western Conference opponents, five of which made the playoffs a season ago.
The Jazz are scheduled to play 16 games on national television — 10 on ESPN and six on TNT. The first of those comes in just the second game of the season on Oct. 25 at the LeBron James- and Anthony Davis-led Lakers — taking advantage of an early-season matchup between presumed new Western Conference powerhouses.
Meanwhile, Utah’s fifth game is against the new-look Clippers (featuring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George) at Vivint Arena, on Oct. 30. They’ll see the Clippers again quickly, with a trip to Staples Center on Nov. 3. The Lakers will be in Utah on Dec. 4 and March 16; after their early-season trip to Utah, the Clippers won’t be back in SLC until April 7.
First matchups vs. other prominent opposition include: Nov. 11 at Golden State; Dec. 1 at reigning champion Toronto; Dec. 26 at Vivint Arena vs. the Blazers; Jan. 30 at Denver; and Feb. 9 at Houston against James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
Back in 2017-18, the Jazz actually started off with a home-heavy slate, with 10 of their first 14 games coming in the friendly confines of Vivint Smart Home Arena.
The team paid for it in the immediate aftermath, though. The Jazz’s December and January schedules featured 17 of 28 on the road — including 12 of 16 between Dec. 9, 2017 and Jan. 12, 2018, a stretch that featured six- and four-game road trips, respectively. Another stretch between Jan. 22 (the night the Jazz dropped to a season-worst 19-28) and Feb. 11 featured eight of 10 on the road.
For the 2018-19 season, there was no waiting for the travel to start. Five of the team’s first seven; 11 of the first 16; 16 of the first 23; and 21 of the team’s first 33 games were on the road. The Jazz hit the halfway mark of their season-long road schedule on Dec. 21.
That’s not the case this time around. In fact, the Jazz’s most skewed month, schedule-wise, works in their favor, with February being extremely home-heavy, given that eight of that month’s 11 games will be played at The Viv.
The 2019-20 schedule also has a bit of extra intrigue to it given the sheer amount of turnover to the Jazz’s roster.
New point guard Mike Conley, who has spent all of his career with the Grizzlies prior to this summer’s predraft trade, will make his return to Memphis on Nov. 15.
Conversely, former Jazz players Jae Crowder and Grayson Allen, who went to the Grizzlies as part of the Conley deal, will return to SLC for the first time on Nov. 29.
Longtime Jazz big man Derrick Favors, who was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans to clear the way for free agent addition Bojan Bogdanovic, will play his first game back in SLC on Nov. 23.
And point guard Ricky Rubio, who signed with the Suns this summer after spending the past two seasons with Utah, will face his old team for the first time Oct. 28 in Phoenix, and will return to Utah on Feb. 24.
TEN KEY JAZZ GAMES IN 2019-20
Oct. 23 • This game against the Thunder serves as both the regular-season opener and home opener. Plus, it’s a chance for Jazz fans to boo Chris Paul.
Oct. 25 • The Jazz get their first national TV game and their first big test, against the LeBron- and AD-led Lakers.
Oct. 30 • Another early test within the season’s first five games, as Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Clippers come to the Viv.
Nov. 8 • Milwaukee is thought to be the favorite in the Eastern Conference; barring an NBA Finals matchup, this will be MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo’s only visit this year to Utah.
Nov. 23 • Derrick Favors, a longtime Jazz big man revered among the fans, makes his return to SLC with the Pelicans.
Dec. 4 • The Lakers make their first visit of the season to The Viv; this is sure to be a tough ticket.
Jan. 20 • Utah will be part of the NBA’s annual slate of games on Martin Luther King Day, with the Pacers coming to play in SLC.
Feb. 24 • Former point guard Ricky Rubio returns to town with the Suns, one of the rare Western Conference teams assured to be not very good this season.
Feb. 26 • Jazz fans do enjoy booing players who have wronged them, correct? On this night, a Celtics team featuring both Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter visits.
April 14 • The Jazz’s home and regular-season finale will be a TNT game against the Nuggets — a matchup that could have playoff implications in a tough Western Conference.
TOUGHEST ROAD TRIPS
Nov. 25-Dec. 2 • This five-game set will be the Jazz’s longest of the season, and will be grueling for not only covering 5,000-plus miles, but for including four tough Eastern teams (Bucks, Pacers, Raptors, Sixers). The Grizzlies are the other opponent.
Jan. 29-Feb. 1 • Playing three games in four nights is always a difficult proposition — doing it on the road against the Spurs, Nuggets, and Blazers is positively headache-inducing.
March 2-7 • The competition is not necessarily all that imposing on paper (Cavs, Knicks, Celtics, Pistons), but anytime you play four in a row on the road, there’s the potential for things to get wonky.