Doing the math: Will the Utah Jazz make the playoffs?

It’s tough to predict anything in the crowded Western Conference, but here’s what the experts think.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Jazz host the San Antonio Spurs, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023.

It’s an exceptionally crowded Western Conference playoff race.

As I write this, the number of games that separate the 4th seed and the 12th seed in the West is just four. It’s remarkable to have nine teams within four games this late in the season. Furthermore, a 10th team, the Portland Trail Blazers, is within striking distance, too, just two games back of the pack and three games out of a playoff spot.

That means it’s harder than ever to predict what may happen to each individual team in that group, because one win or one loss can swing so much. Still, there are tea leaves to follow: injuries, strength of schedule, and recent form can all help us figure it out.

With that in mind, let’s look at some oddsmakers and statistical projection systems to figure it out.

Will the Jazz make the playoffs?

For the purposes of this analysis, we’re going to define the playoffs as the whole shebang that happens after the NBA’s new play-in tournament — in other words, the playoffs are the traditional seven-game series, with the first seed facing the eighth seed and so on.

And according to oddsmakers, the Jazz are pretty darn unlikely to make it into that level of competition this season. Right now on sports betting sites like FanDuel, if you spend $100, you can win $980, or an implied 9% chance that the Jazz make the playoffs.

That’s just a bit higher than what statistical projection systems, like those used by FiveThirtyEight, ESPN, and Inpredictable predict. Both models use strength-of-team calculations from the season that’s been so far to estimate winning probabilities for each remaining game, then run thousands of simulations to account for randomness in those games. FiveThirtyEight’s model is a bit more advanced, keeping track of things on a player-by-player basis to account for injuries and recent form. Both take into account home-court advantage and remaining strength of schedule.

FiveThirtyEight estimates that the Jazz have an 8% chance of making the playoffs, while ESPN puts the odds at 7.3%.

Will the Jazz make the play-in tournament?

Unfortunately, ESPN and FiveThirtyEight’s projection systems don’t break down seed-by-seed probabilities — which would allow us to figure out the chances the Jazz make the play-in tournament.

But Inpredictable’s do. And they indicate that the Jazz have a 33% chance of making the play-in tournament. That breaks down as a:

• 14% chance of getting the 10th seed

• 10% chance of getting the 9th seed

• 6% chance of getting the 8th seed

• 3% chance of getting the 7th seed

Interestingly, sports betting sites differ significantly on the odds that the Jazz make the play-in tournament. FanDuel, for example, says you’d only win $165 on a $100 bet the Jazz make the play-in, an implied 38% probability. Meanwhile, DraftKings would pay you $280 for the same bet, or an implied 26% chance. Drama!

Odds on the Jazz’s draft position

Of course, when considering draft position, the Eastern Conference’s bottom of the barrel gets added into the equation, too.

Right now the Jazz are tied with three other teams in the tank race for the league’s 10th-worst spot, which would give them a 10.3% chance of a top-4 pick — along with a 2.2% chance at the draft’s No. 1 pick and French prospect Victor Wembanyama.

However, the Jazz are projected to drop slightly in the standings over the remainder of the season. FiveThirtyEight projects they’ll finish in a three-way tie for the eighth-worst record at 38-44, which would mean a roughly 20% chance at a top-4 pick, and a 4% chance at the French 7-footer. ESPN projects that to be just a two-way tie, which would raise those odds to about a 23% chance and a 5% chance, respectively.

One thing is clear: just like in the playoff race, every loss or win matters in the tank race, too. If the Jazz were to instead garner just 37 wins, they end in a tie for seventh. Thirty-six wins means a tie for sixth. At that point, the Jazz would have a 7-9% chance at the top slot, and a 31-38% chance at a top-four pick. That’s honestly not far off what even the very worst team in the NBA gets — just a 14% chance at No. 1 and a 53% chance at top-four.

The Vegas oddsmakers don’t let you bet on the outcomes of the NBA lottery just yet — a little funny, given that you can walk into a casino and bet on other games of sheer luck. (What’s the difference between a roulette table and the NBA’s Powerball-style lottery machine?) But of note to Jazz fans: they still consider the Minnesota Timberwolves favorites to miss the playoffs and instead join the lottery, given their remaining difficult schedule. That outcome would help the Jazz’s lottery odds, too, if only slightly.