Utah Jazz: 5 Keys to Watch as Team Makes Playoff Push in Season's 2nd Half
The Utah Jazz have been the pinnacle of consistency around the NBA for a long time. It isn't very often that the organization makes huge roster or coaching moves. The decision to keep the same core of players and the same coaches has paid off since the organization moved to Utah. The team has consistently been a part of the NBA playoffs for a long time and they look to continue that tradition this year.
The Jazz currently sit in seventh place in the tight Western conference playoff race. Having reached the top of the season's hill, the Jazz are looking to make a big run at the playoffs, down the season's back stretch.
Here's a look at five things that will need to happen if the Jazz want to make a serious run at the playoffs.
Can the Jazz Get Consistent Point Guard Play
In the offseason, the Jazz made a move to get veteran point guard Mo Williams, with the plan to keep him as the starting point guard. With Williams out, the Jazz have been forced to start veteran point guard Jamaal Tinsley. Although Tinsley is a viable temporary solution, a common sentiment among "Jazz Nation" is that the Jazz need to upgrade the point guard position.
Williams will be out until at least late February, meaning that Tinsley will probably be seeing the majority of the minutes in the backcourt. The former street baller (formerly known as "Mel Mel the Abuser") will need to be consistent, and provide a scoring threat in order to fill the void left by Mo Williams.
Will the Jazz Make a Trade?
Neither of the Jazz' leading scorers, Paul Millsap or "Big" Al Jefferson, is under contract for next season. Millsap has rejected extension offers from Utah and seems to have one foot out the door.
Jefferson, on the other hand, seems to love Utah. Millsap's trade value is higher, because of a relatively low contract, but Jefferson has higher scoring and rebounding averages. There are pros and cons to keeping and trading either one. Jazz fans have a hard time agreeing on which could or should be traded.
The Jazz are expected by fans, reporters and even some NBA executives, to make a move before the trade deadline. Since most do not expect Millsap to re-sign in the off-season, the Jazz will probably be looking to get something in return for the potential All-Star, rather than just let him go. With all the salary cap space the Jazz have for next year, they could be looking to land a star.
Can the Jazz Win Big Games on the Road?
Energy Solutions Arena has fondly been given the nickname "The Solution" by the Jazz faithful. If their home court is "The Solution" than any road arena can certainly be dubbed "The Problem."
While defending their home court comes easy, winning on the road hasn't been nearly as doable. The Jazz have struggled on the road for years. This year is no different. The Jazz have gone 9-15 on the road this year, while they have gone 14-4 at home.
The Jazz can compete with anybody in Salt Lake City. They've beaten the San Antonio Spurs and the defending NBA champion Miami Heat in Salt Lake City, but their biggest win on the road might very well be in Brooklyn against the Nets.
If the Jazz make the playoffs, it's likely they will be a lower seed and won't have home court advantage in the playoffs. The Jazz need to learn how to win big games on the road if they plan on succeeding in the postseason.
Can the Bench Play Consistently?
Although the Jazz have many decent players, the team lacks a true All-Star. The starting lineup that Jazz management has pieced together, although decent, lacks the overall talent to compete with top tier teams. The way the Jazz compete with the upper echelon of the league's elite is through their bench.
The Jazz have a deep and talented bench which is currently led by Gordon Hayward, who some regard to be the Jazz' best overall player. While the major teams sit their stars, the Jazz bench comes on and makes big runs. Head coach Tyrone Corbin has used everyone on his bench multiple times this season. There have been games that it hasn't worked out so well, however. Even though the Jazz' bench is talented, it hasn't always been consistent.
One thing is for sure. As the Jazz' bench goes, so go the Jazz. Utah needs big production from its bench in order to advance in the postseason.
Can the Jazz Avoid 4th Quarter Let Downs?
While the Jazz are able to get ahead of the opposition by large amounts, they aren't a team that can consistently hold a lead.
Earlier this season the Jazz had a 19-point lead in the second half on the Los Angeles Clippers in Salt Lake City. Many thought the Jazz had enough in the bank, but it wasn't to be. Chris Paul led an inspired Clipper club to make the dramatic comeback and win the ball game.
The Jazz were owners of another double-digit lead against the Heat in Salt Lake City. LeBron James was the catalyst behind a Heat comeback, but he fell just short. The Jazz almost choked away another big lead at home.
The Jazz have no problem playing from behind. They lead the league in wins after trailing by double-digits. The young Jazz are going to have to learn how to hold a lead if they want to be considered a serious threat in the playoffs.