Gordon Monson: Here’s the hard truth about the Utah Jazz and their regular season

What do we learn in those 82 games? Often, not much

You can look it up and/or you can trust what you see with your own eyes.

The NBA regular season doesn’t mean much.

Not for the Jazz. Not for any other team.

Not usually.

It’s an exhibition, a show. It’s entertainment, games played to make the home crowd feel good or not so good about its team. It’s for the television networks, for the advertisers, for viewers, for people who like basketball, who like to watch basketball. It’s a soap opera, nighttime drama for suckers like us.

That’s pretty much it.

Over an 82-game campaign, there are indicators that carry some meaning. But individual contests don’t mean a thing. Just like Jazz players said the other night, when they got slapped around by the Pelicans in a manner that, if it had real meaning, the Jazz would be screwed.

On that particular occasion, they were horrible. What’s worse than horrible? Whatever it is, that’s what they were.

The players admitted as much, saying, in so many words, that in an extended season there were going to be nights like that, times when they couldn’t beat the Washington Generals, times when they might as well pick up a bucket of confetti and throw it at someone in the crowd, and that their proper response would be simply to forget about it, to put the matter behind them and move on.

Which is to say, that game — and others like it — was a cartoon. I half-expected Foghorn Leghorn to show up in the Jazz’s court-side huddle. Quin Snyder, I swear, at one juncture in the second half told Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Bojan Bogdanovic to grab some pine, that he was subbing them out for Wally Gator, Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound. They likely would have set better screens and D’d up a bit better.

Murmurings after games like that from some observers run along the lines of, “Championship contenders don’t get beat like that.”

Here’s the thing, though. Sometimes, they do. The best teams the Jazz have ever put on the floor have suffered those kinds of defeats. Even legendary title teams get thumped.

Part of it is because it’s the nature of basketball, that some nights there’s a manhole cover atop the rim. And part of it is because 82 games is entirely too many for legitimate competition. For the regular season to carry more significance, that number would have to be sliced down to 50 or maybe even 40.

That would never happen.

That’s not what the season is for. It’s for … is there an echo in here, in here, in here, in here? … making money and putting on that show.

Many people, those who swing a heavy pick in a salt mine, those who load crates into the back of two-tons all day, day after day, for a living, say, “These guys are making millions and more millions of dollars. They should be able to play a freaking game 82 times over a six-month period.”

The only problem with that statement is, they can’t. The most fit athletes on God’s green earth can’t do that, not at peak-performance levels. Why? Because they are humans.

Ask the Jazz how human they felt when they recently had to play three games in four nights on account of the fact that that’s the way the schedule-maker laid it out. The defeat they suffered to the Mavericks on Monday night, the second game of a back-to-back situation, the third game played in four nights and the last game of a five-game roadie, was nothing more, nothing less than a scheduled loss.

The Jazz were gassed. That’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation.

And that’s the way it is in the NBA. As much as Luka Doncic pounded his chest in victory, it didn’t carry a whole lot of meaning, not as far as defining either the Jazz or the Mavs.

It was just another bump in the long and winding road.

Just like it’s butter-smooth-riding when the Jazz head in the opposite direction and win big, as they did against a depleted Blazers team on Wednesday night. What’s it all about, Alfie? Not a lot.

That’s the truth, even when a positive trend sustains itself over an extended stretch. Exhibit A is what the Jazz accomplished last season, running up the NBA’s best regular-season record, and getting dumped in the playoffs’ second round against the Clippers. Oops. Too soon? The disappointment still stings a lot of folks around here.

But it’s the way it is.

Only about a third of teams with the league’s best regular-season record end up winning a championship. And more than you’d think don’t even make the Finals.

Snyder and the rest of the Jazz know this. They’re fully aware that the only competitive thing the season is good for is … development, experimentation, finding the right strategies, the right rotations, the right combinations, and sometimes the right personnel, so that when the second season, the real season, begins, they’ll be ready for whatever matchups they’ll face in, best case, a series of differing postseason series.

The rest of it is … uh-huh, the echo … made for making money.

All of it’s made for that, for selling $180 seats and $10 beers, for peddling cars and insurance and financial services and security systems on broadcasts.

It’s fun, though, too.

But the games themselves might as well be spectacles, presentations, pictures at an exhibition.

Everyone has witnessed this with the Jazz for years now. And in recent times, they’ve seen the growth of Mitchell and Gobert and they’ve also seen the limitations, they’ve seen the brilliance of Snyder and the moments when brilliance wasn’t enough, they’ve seen the goofy sideshows of players like Doncic and Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverly getting tangled up with Gobert and others, putting on the …


There’s no conspiracy theory being proposed here. The NBA’s not the WWE. The winner isn’t predetermined. The refs don’t choreograph outcomes according to direction from the league office.

Teams are trying to win … unless they’re managing loads or tanking.

It’s just that winning in the exhibition season is different from winning in the playoffs.

Again, the Jazz know it. Everybody knows it.

More than a few old-timers believe that had the ‘90s Jazz not thrown nearly everything they had at winning every regular-season game they could, that they would have gone further in the postseason, and perhaps won a title. But Jerry Sloan was a man who sought to give the fans what they paid for — the Jazz’s best, exhausting effort. A great show it was. Noble it was. But the trophy case remained empty.

Or maybe it was more that, even when the Jazz had the best regular-season record, like so many of the aforementioned, it was a mirage, a misrepresentation. They were good, really good, but not great, not great enough.

So then, why do so many fans around here — and elsewhere — get pulled into the melodrama? Why do they soar with the highs and sag with the lows by way of exhibitions?

Here’s why … because they wanna believe.

They wanna think the Jazz have a shot at doing something they haven’t done since 1998 — make it to the Finals, and maybe this time, maybe this freaking time, have a real shot at hoisting the trophy.

Nothing wrong with that.

Belief is good, and so is the show.