One game. Nine days. Plenty of rest and practice.
An NBA team usually does not get a break like this in the middle of the season, except for around the All-Star break. But this year the NBA made up for the brutal early schedule the Utah Jazz faced by giving them such a break last week.
And it comes at an interesting point. The Jazz have completed exactly half of the season Heading into last night’s contest against the league’s worst team, the Washington Wizards, they sat in seventh place in the West with a 22-19 record.
So what have the Jazz shown us in the first half, and what can fans expect their water cooler conversations to be focused on over the last three months of the season?
For now, Jazz fans must be happy with the overall direction of the team. The Jazz are on pace for the expected 45 wins Vegas projected before the season began. You could even argue they are ahead of where they are expected to be.
A notoriously poor road team, the Jazz played 24 of the first 41 games on the road, compiling a .375 win percentage. This may not sound like a huge number, but it places the Jazz in the upper half of road win percentage in the league. Their first-half win mark is an astounding 13-4. If they simply maintain the same pace in the second half, the Jazz will finish above the 45 win mark and will have a shot at a playoff spot.
The Jazz have some factors pushing them towards the 45 win mark. The improved shooting paired with an easier schedule should help them keep this pace. Of course, this is the NBA, and outside factors always must be taken into consideration.
But for now the Jazz will enjoy the improving offense. The offseason additions of Randy Foye and Marvin Williams coupled with the development of Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks added a new shooting dynamic the Jazz have not had in recent seasons. The team raised their 3-point shooting percentage to eighth in the league.
The young core has also seen marked improvement over the first half. Hayward is the best example, taking the role as the second unit’s primary scorer and flourishing in it. Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors provide little drop off when they replace the Jazz veteran frontcourt.
Part of their growth can be attributed to their increased playing time, and with a lighter schedule, the young core can expect to see more minutes. Of the 16 games remaining between now and the end of February, 11 are at home and six are against teams with a better record. Only once do the Jazz travel to a team with a better record, a trip to face the Los Angeles Clippers.
While the games may have seemed easier in the first half, this next month will be key for the Jazz. They can not take the relatively easy schedule for granted. Right now, the Jazz are 3.5 games behind the Warriors for fifth in the West, a possible goal the Jazz could reach by the end of February. If they lose focus, teams such as Portland and Dallas sit just a couple games behind the Jazz.
Keeping focus amid the possible distractions will be the key to the next month. Rumors still float around the NBA that the Jazz are looking to move either Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson before the trade deadline, due to their impending contract expirations. It is impossible to get any idea if a move will actually happen considering how tight-lipped the Jazz front office is.
If it affects team chemistry, the Jazz will not make a move. But it is not out of the realm of possibility. It will be up to the players to keep their focus while the trade rumors whistle around the team.
Whatever happens, the second half will make for plenty to discuss.