Jazz 2017-18 Schedule: Top Games, Championship Odds and Record Predictions

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistAugust 14, 2017

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert runs upcourt during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Sunday, April 2, 2017, in San Antonio. San Antonio won 109-103. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)
Darren Abate/Associated Press

After losing Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics in free agency, the 2017-18 season has a transitional vibe for the Utah Jazz.

Despite seeing their top player walk, the Jazz still have plenty of pieces that should allow them to be competitive in the Western Conference and vie for a playoff spot.

Utah went 51-31 in 2016-17, secured the No. 5 seed in the conference and knocked off the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs before getting swept by the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors.

Returning to that level without Hayward will be a massive challenge, but here is a complete preview of what lies ahead for the Jazz in 2017-18 following the release of their schedule.

     

2017-18 Season Details

Season Opener: Wednesday, Oct. 18 vs. Denver Nuggets (9 p.m. ET)

Championship Odds: 50-1 (via OddsShark)

Full Schedule: NBA.com

     

Top Matchups

vs. Boston Celtics: Wednesday, March 28 at 9:30 p.m. ET

There is always a ton of buzz surrounding games featuring a big star returning to their former stomping grounds after leaving in free agency or getting traded.

When Kevin Durant returned to Oklahoma City for the first time to face the Thunder as a member of the Golden State Warriors last season, it was among the marquee moments of the 2016-17 NBA regular season.

While Hayward's return to Utah won't reach that level, it is undoubtedly a date on the calendar worth circling for NBA diehards.

The biggest question mark relates to the atmosphere and how Jazz fans will react. Although there could be some anger, Hayward had nothing but good things to say about Utah on the way out.

In a farewell letter written for the Players' Tribune, Hayward expressed his gratitude for the years he spent as a member of the Jazz:

"They say that Salt Lake is a great place to raise a family—and I know that sounds like something people just say. But you spend enough time here ... and you realize that it's true. And for me, as far as that goes—I feel like I'm indebted to Salt Lake, twice over. Because not only has this been the city where I've started my family, and not only has this been the city that's helped raise my daughters for the last couple of years ... but long before that, during my first few years in the league—I also feel like this city helped raise me. And I feel like this city took me in, as part of its own family. And I just wanted to say thank you for that. And thank you for everything."

Hayward improved with each passing year in Utah, developed into an All-Star player and never created any type of drama.

Because of those factors, it is entirely possible he will be on the receiving end of a standing ovation rather than the vitriol Durant was subjected to in OKC.

Regardless of how Hayward is received, his first trip back to Utah promises to be a special moment that will have the entire basketball world's attention.

     

at Minnesota Timberwolves: Friday, Oct. 20 at 8 p.m. ET

Although Utah lost a big-name player this offseason in the form of Hayward, it also gained one when it acquired point guard Ricky Rubio in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It can be argued that Rubio has never quite reached his lofty ceiling, but the Spaniard is coming off the best NBA season of his career.

In 2016-17, Rubio averaged a career-high 11.1 points and 9.1 assists per game, while shooting a personal-best 40.2 percent from the field and 89.1 percent from the free-throw line.

Despite his production, Rubio was the constant center of trade rumors, and he admitted after getting dealt to the Jazz that it impacted him, according to Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press (h/t TwinCities.com):

"When your name is in the rumors, it's tough to feel one of the main guys and feel a really good part of the project because there's a lot of doubts around you. But we're professionals and we have to know that they're not doing it because they don't like you. It's just because they want the best for the team. Maybe it wasn't meant to be over there. We will see."

The T'Wolves acquired Jimmy Butler in a trade with the Chicago Bulls and replaced Rubio with Jeff Teague in free agency.

Minnesota appears more ready to take the next step and contend for the playoffs now than it did at any point during Rubio's tenure, which could place a chip firmly on his shoulder.

There aren't likely to be any hard feelings from Timberwolves fans toward Rubio, but the 26-year-old veteran figures to have added motivation when he returns to Minnesota this season.

Rubio has a chance to be a key offensive contributor in Utah, and if he can build upon what he accomplished last year, he may make the Timberwolves regret giving up on him a bit too soon.

      

Record Prediction

The loss of Hayward will undoubtedly hurt, but the Jazz are still built for success due primarily to their play on the defensive end.

Utah ranked first in the NBA in defense last season, allowing just 96.8 points per game. A big reason for the Jazz's defensive dominance was Defensive Player of the Year Award finalist Rudy Gobert, who proved himself to be one of the NBA's best all-around centers.

The Jazz also lost starting point guard George Hill in free agency, but he was oft-injured. Rubio will bring a different dynamic to the table as a playmaker.

From an offensive perspective, Utah will need the likes of forwards Derrick Favor, Joe Ingles and Joe Johnson, as well as guards Rodney Hood, Alec Burks and Dante Exum, to step up and replace some of what Hayward brought to the table.

The Jazz also brought in another exciting, young piece in guard Donovan Mitchell after getting him in the first round of the 2017 NBA draft via a trade with the Denver Nuggets, and they filled out their roster with some savvy veteran signings in the form of Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko and Ekpe Udoh.

Utah is somewhat lacking when it comes to star power, but Gobert is reaching that level. The team has enough depth to remain a pain for the opposition to play against.

Although some regression is bound to happen, look for the Jazz to be a playoff team once again in 2017-18, even if it is closer to the bottom than the middle of the postseason pack.

Predicted record: 44-38

Related

    Thunder's Identity Taking Shape After Dumping Melo

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Thunder's Identity Taking Shape After Dumping Melo

    Jon Hamm
    via Bleacher Report

    Mitchell, Simmons, Tatum Given Same 2K Rating

    Utah Jazz logo
    Utah Jazz

    Mitchell, Simmons, Tatum Given Same 2K Rating

    Kyle Newport
    via Bleacher Report

    Report: Melo Says He'll End Up on Rockets

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Report: Melo Says He'll End Up on Rockets

    Alec Nathan
    via Bleacher Report

    Report: Melo to Be Waived After Trade to ATL 🚨

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Report: Melo to Be Waived After Trade to ATL 🚨

    Tim Daniels
    via Bleacher Report