It’s pretty obvious that there’s one big question on the minds of national analysts about the Jazz.
Is Utah for real? Can they win like this in the playoffs?
Well, anti-spoiler alert: we won’t know for sure until the playoffs actually roll around on May 22, one month from Thursday. But we can look at how they’ve played against the NBA’s best teams in this regular season.
And there, the results are relatively promising. Statistician Ed Kupfer took a look at how every NBA team has played this season against the top 10 teams in the league, the middle 10 and the bottom 10, on both ends of the floor. Then he put them in one, handy-dandy chart.
You can see how the Jazz hold up: they actually have their relative best performances against top-10 opposition. At no point does either the offense or defense fall to even the average mark; the Jazz are able to stay relatively consistent no matter the opponent.
“We’re a team that’s going to do anything they can in order to try to win every single game,” Rudy Gobert said.
In fact, the Jazz are by far the best team in the NBA when playing top-10 opposition, according to Cleaning The Glass. They have a 13-7 record in such games, and outscore them by 8.1 points per 100 possessions. The second best team, the Brooklyn Nets, only outscores opponents by an average of 3 points per 100 in those games.
Note that this analysis isn’t saying that the Jazz play better against the top teams in the NBA. As good as that +8.1 mark against top teams is, they’re +10.8 against middle-10 opposition, and +15.6 against bottom-10 opposition. Those numbers rank No. 1, No. 1 and No. 2 in the league, respectively (the Clippers are +16.1 against bottom-10 teams, beating the Jazz by a nose).
The Jazz are just really quite consistent.
Now, it’s worth noting the abundance of shorthanded top opponents the Jazz have played. The Lakers were missing one or both of their superstars in all three matchups. They played the Clippers once without Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, though both played in the other two games. Brooklyn played only one of their three superstars in one matchup, and none in the other. The Jazz have, in all likelihood, gotten lucky in this respect.
JAZZ VS. TIMBERWOLVES
At Vivint Arena
When • Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • ATTSN
But the consistency hasn’t been the case for some of the other teams in the NBA. Phoenix has had good consistency, but the Clippers haven’t been able to maintain defensive excellence against the very best or the very worst. Milwaukee can’t seem to contain the best offenses. Interestingly, New Orleans can’t score against bad teams, but does very well against the league’s average-or-better defenses.
So what’s the key? Jazz coach Quin Snyder says part of the recipe has been maintaining a certain level of respect for their opponents — even if their record is the polar opposite of the Jazz’s, as was the case in Wednesday’s Rockets game.
“I think we’ve got a team that, for the most part, is focused,” Snyder said. “However many you’ve won or lost in a row, each game is new and we’ve got to come focused. Every opponent’s new, so each game’s different.”
And, to some extent, forgetting about that previous consistency has been the key to the consistency.
“I wouldn’t say it’s misleading ... but, you know, you can have a good grade going into the final,” Snyder said, comparing the Jazz’s season to a student’s school year. “And how you do in the final is what counts.
“What you’ve done over the course of a year certainly prepares you. For us, that’s where the focus is,” he continued. “You want to keep winning, but you also want to win in a certain way.”
The final — or, ideally, the Finals — is where the Jazz have their focus. But until the day of the final arrives, they’ve completed every homework assignment, the easy and the hard ones, and gotten high marks on it all.