Utah Jazz: Are They Legitimate NBA Contenders This Season?

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Utah Jazz: Are They Legitimate NBA Contenders This Season?
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

By Tyler Ward

The Jazz, as of late, have been the hottest team in the entire league. Jerry Sloan’s team has had five straight comeback victories in which they were down 10 or more points at some point during the game.

Deron Williams and Paul Millsap have played like All-Stars, while players such as Al Jefferson, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmut Okur, C.J. Miles and Raja Bell have played like quality role players. The Jazz are a deep team with a great supporting cast, so the question remains: Are they legitimate contenders? Yes.

So far this season, the Jazz have shown qualities that each championship team has had.  They have played great under pressure and have had great leadership in the locker room. The Jazz have also shown that they are deep at every position on the court, and every player brings a certain type of style to the hardwood.

 

The Jazz Roster

Point Guard: Deron Williams, Ronnie Price, Earl Watson

Shooting Guard: Raja Bell, C.J. Miles

Small Forward: Andrei Kirilenko, Gordon Hayward

Power Forward: Paul Millsap, Mehmut Okur, Jeremy Evans

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Center: Al Jefferson, Kyrylo Fesenko

Utah seems to have a very capable roster, and some of the backups could be starters on most teams in the NBA. The Jazz are a very talented group, led by Williams and Millsap.

The Jazz are currently 7-3 and ranked fourth in the Western Conference behind the surprisingly undefeated New Orleans Hornets, with the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers closely following suit.

Even though the Jazz are the fourth-best team record-wise, I believe they are the second-best team in the conference (I vote the Lakers as being the best, got to take the defending two-time champions, right?) The Hornets will likely not keep up the pace, and I think the Spurs will eventually fade down the stretch.

But are the Jazz good enough to make the Finals? I think they have all the capabilities to make it there, but it will require a good amount of luck to make it that far. The Lakers are still considered the best team in the league, and until someone dethrones them, they will remain in the top spot. The Lakers will return for their fourth straight NBA Finals appearance.

The Jazz will give them a run for their money and push them to at least six games, maybe seven. They are a very good team, but they can't get past Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.

The Jazz are legitimate contenders in the tough Western Conference, and with the young core of players they have, they could very well make an NBA Finals appearance sometime in the near future.

The Jazz played exceedingly well in their improbable five-game streak of comebacks, and that may be an understatement.

In their spree, Paul Millsap had the best game of his young career in their overtime triumph of the Heat, where he put up 46 points, including a Tracy McGrady-esque 11 points in the final 30 seconds. He also went 3-for-3 from the three-point line (he had only made two in his entire career).

Millsap also made the game-winning basket before the end of overtime and added nine rebounds in his effort. Entering Monday night, Millsap could be considered the team’s MVP and is averaging 21.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.

Deron Williams also played great in their streak and averaged 24.4 points and 10.8 assists per game in that span. Also, in three of the five games, Williams put up a double-double. Considered the leader of the team, Williams is averaging 21.3 points and 10.1 assists per game for the season, entering Monday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

If Millsap and Williams continue at the pace they’re on, it could be a lesser-known version of the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol duo.

I like what both players have done on the court and Millsap has shown that he was definitely worth the four-year/$32 million contract he signed with the Jazz in 2009 (I bet the Blazers wish the Jazz didn’t match their offer sheet).

Lining up alongside Millsap and Williams are Andrei Kirilenko and Raja Bell, both primarily known for their stellar defensive abilities. Bell, the starting shooting guard, is considered to be one of the top lockdown defenders in basketball, and with Bell getting an extensive amount of playing time, it is easy for him to shut down some of the league’s best players. His stats may not be overwhelmingly amazing, but his presence on the court is just as important.

Kirilenko, although he is making over $17 million this season, has played well and is having the best season of his career since the 2006-07 season. He may not be the blocking machine he once was, but like Bell, his defensive presence means more to the Jazz than anything. So far this season, he is averaging 12.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.

With the other players added in, the Jazz are a very capable team that could go deep in the playoffs. I think that they end up making the Western Conference Finals and end up losing to the Lakers, but it is only a prediction and time will tell if I’m right or not.

But I do like what they’ve done so far this season and their offseason acquisitions have become very handy. Utah’s front office has clearly made great decisions and they are definitely headed in the right direction.

As of now, they are legitimate contenders in the almighty Western Conference and I consider them one of the top teams in not only the Western Conference, but in the NBA as well. I’ll even go as far to say that they are better than the Miami Heat. I’m just basing this on the performances so far this season, even though it is still very young and there is a long way to go.

Are they better than the San Antonio Spurs? Yes. The New Orleans Hornets? Most definitely. The Dallas Mavericks? Yes. The Miami Heat? Oh yeah. The Boston Celtics? Yes.

I think you get the picture. I have never been a Jazz fan, but they are one of the top teams in the league and a legitimate contender to make the NBA Finals this season.

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