Utah Jazz Schedule 2013-14: Most Anticipated Games of the Regular Season
Missing the playoffs after being so close for the majority of the season was a major letdown for the Jazz and their fanbase.
While there is excitement for the 2013-14 season, it's a controlled excitement due to the losses of Mo Williams, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson.
Are there players who can fill those voids? Yes, there are players capable of rising to the occasion and becoming the true face of a youthful Jazz roster, and that's in large part why this upcoming season is an exciting one.
While there are games like matchups with the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs that will be exciting to watch, there are five games Jazz fans need to mark on their calendars. The games on this list are important because they will show what this young team is made of, and that's integral for this season and the future of the franchise.
October 30: OKC Thunder vs. Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz kick off the 2013-14 season with a home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder and a chance to make a serious statement in the Western Conference.
Sure, it will only be the first game of the year, but we all know how fun it is to overreact to the first game of the season.
Without Mo Williams and Al Jefferson, the new-look Jazz will be looking to put their youthful exuberance on display. Who better to do it against than an inter-conference powerhouse?
Jazz fans will get an authentic look at how well Trey Burke fares against one of the league's best in Russell Westbrook—assuming he makes his glorious return from injury on Oct. 30. Fans will also get to see how well the frontcourt will fare without Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.
The excitement should be through the roof, with the Jazz looking to make a statement and their fans hoping for a great start to the season.
Unfortunately, beating the Thunder will be too tall of a task for such a young team. The odds are that the Jazz will feed off the hometown energy for the first half and stay close with Kevin Durant and Co., but they'll ultimately fall short.
Without consistency at the point guard position and defensive pressure on the wing, it will be hard for the Jazz to contain Westbrook and Durant.
A strong start against the Thunder will give Utah fans hope for the season even in spite of a loss, and that's almost as important as a win in their first game of the year.
November 25: Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz
No, the importance of this game has nothing to do with the NBA Finals history between the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz.
There are three reasons why this game is important.
First, when the Jazz face off against the Bulls, Utah will have 15 games under its belt. There will be a clear picture of where the season is heading. Ten of the Jazz's first 15 games are against teams that made the playoffs last year, and how well they fare in those games will indicate whether this year is another rebuilding year or if they can contend.
Secondly, this game is important because the Jazz's new starting frontcourt duo will have a bit of chemistry going, and they will battle against the formidable frontcourt of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. Playing against veteran talent, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter's level of maturity will be tested. How well the young duo responds will be a telling sign of how dominant they can be.
Finally, it will give fans a chance to see rookie point guard Trey Burke go up against Derrick Rose. If Burke's potential isn't clear before that game, going against Rose will make it even more apparent.
At this point in the season, the Jazz will have some resemblance of chemistry amongst their young roster, and they won't have given way to the rigors of the long NBA season, as they did last year when they failed to make the playoffs.
Riding that youthful exuberance, the Jazz will be able to hang with the Bulls at home and come out victorious.
The Jazz will pull off the "upset" mainly because Derrick Favors' athleticism will be on display, overpowering Carlos Boozer on a regular basis. And the Bulls will be finishing off a West Coast road trip, coming off games against the L.A. Clippers, Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers, which will make this game difficult for them.
A win against the Bulls at this point in the season will keep things interesting for the Jazz and their rabid fanbase.
December 18: Utah Jazz at Orlando Magic
I know what you're thinking, and the answer is yes. I do know that this game with the Orlando Magic comes after back-to-back games against the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that games against the two teams in the 2013 NBA Finals are important—especially with the game against Miami coming on the road.
Focusing on their matchup with the Magic, after their games against the best of the best, gives fans an opportunity to see the level of resiliency in a young Jazz team that will undoubtedly be looking for an identity.
Let's play out a few scenarios here. If somehow the Jazz pull off back-to-back wins against the Spurs and Heat, they will look to prove it's not a fluke with a dominant win against Orlando. If they split with the Spurs and Heat, again, the Jazz will be looking to assert themselves with a win against Orlando.
If Utah loses both games, which is the likeliest of all outcomes—based on last season's 0-2 record against the Spurs and 1-1 record against the Heat—the Jazz will be looking to show they are at least not in the same category as a team that is truly rebuilding like Orlando.
A worn-out Jazz team coming off games against the elite of the elite will show that they're more mature than their age shows.
Dominating the Magic is a way to show that Utah isn't truly rebuilding, but it's instead in more of a "re-identifying" season.
The Jazz have the advantage on the wing with Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward, and by this point in the season, Trey Burke should have his rookie jitters behind him.
On paper this may not seem like a big game, but for a young team, this matchup, coming after two tough games, will be important to the Jazz's trajectory for the remainder of the season.
December 27: L.A. Lakers vs. Utah Jazz
Remember last season when the Utah Jazz went from 31-24 to 34-36 in just 15 games, ultimately losing their grip on a playoff spot?
The team they lost that playoff spot to was the L.A. Lakers, and while they didn't play each other down the home stretch of the 2012-13 season, this one will still be fun to watch.
With the losses both teams experienced this offseason—the Jazz losing Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams and Devin Harris, and the Lakers losing Dwight Howard, Earl Clark and Metta World Peace—they could both find themselves in a similar "playoff position" at the end of the year.
If they are both battling for the final playoff spot in the West once again, each and every time they face off will be of importance due to the way tiebreaker rules are set up in the NBA.
While Kobe Bryant could be back by this point in the season, the Jazz are still the favorite in this matchup.
That's because their frontcourt has a significant athletic advantage over the likes of Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman.
The matchup with the Lake Show will be another opportunity for the Jazz to show just where they rank in the Western Conference. It will be their shot at separating themselves from the lower end of talent out West and setting themselves up for a legitimate playoff push.
The Jazz won't necessarily dominate this matchup, but thanks to their youth and energy on offense, they'll be able to come out on top.
The Lakers will have a difficult time slowing down Favors on the post. Without World Peace's defensive pressure, keeping Gordon Hayward under wraps will be a tall task.
March 19: Utah Jazz at Memphis Grizzlies
The Utah Jazz ended the 2012-13 season on a rough 86-70 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in a game that was essentially a "play-in game" for the playoffs. It was a tragic way to end the season, and that taste of defeat has certainly stayed in the organization's mouth throughout the offseason.
While the Jazz will have faced off against the Grizzlies before this date, this one holds special significance for Utah because it will be its ninth road game in 12 games.
Ending a road trip is hard enough on its own. Add to that a road trip with the last three games coming against the Spurs, Rockets and Grizzlies, and you'll see how important this game is.
Not only will it undoubtedly have playoff implications at such a late point in the season, it will also be the Jazz's major shot at redemption against a Memphis team that owned them last year, winning three of four games.
More importantly though, at this point in the season we'll have a clear picture of the kind of team Utah is. This game will be an opportunity for Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter to show what they're made of.
With the Jazz still in the playoff mix at this point in the season, this game will hold more value for them than the Grizzlies.
While the Jazz don't have the advantage in the paint, they do out on the wing. They'll be able to run their fast-paced offense against a team that likes to win with discipline and pacing.
Beating the Grizzlies at home coming off nine road games in 12 games isn't an easy task, but sometimes you can catch a team sleeping.
This mid-March matchup can be a statement game and a turning point for the Jazz. I see that happening for a young team with a high level of potential.