The 2020-21 postseason set up nicely for the Utah Jazz. They were the top overall seed, and injuries to stars around the Western Conference had weakened some of the top contenders. There was a real window for them.
But that came crashing down in the Western Conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite going up 2-0 in the series, despite superstar Kawhi Leonard missing Games 5 and 6 and despite holding a 25-point lead in the third quarter of Game 6, the Jazz watched the Clippers win four straight times against them, ending their season.
Not that the Jazz didn't have their own adversity in the postseason, namely Mike Conley missing five of the six games against the Clippers. But failing to get out of the second round was nonetheless a major disappointment for the Jazz.
With largely the same team back this season, though, Utah should be among the contenders yet again in the Western Conference.
Let's take a look at the schedule they'll face while they attempt to improve upon last season.
2021-22 Schedule Details
Season Opener: Oct. 20, vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 9 p.m. ET
Championship Odds: +1400, per FanDuel
Los Angeles Clippers (First Matchup: Dec. 15)
You know the Jazz want some revenge. Even if it's only the regular season. And even if they publicly underplay these games.
The Clippers will likely be without Leonard for these matchups, as he recovers from a torn ACL. Even more reason for the Jazz to get the better of their Western Conference rivals and to not let role players like Terance Mann and Reggie Jackson torch them.
Consider these games a litmus test for whether the Jazz are improved from last season. Beating the Clippers won't erase the disappointment of last season, but Utah fans would enjoy it nonetheless.
Phoenix Suns (First Matchup: Jan. 24)
Matchups against the Suns will give the Jazz the opportunity to see how they measure up against the Western Conference champions from a year ago.
For much of last season, these two teams battled for the No. 1 seed in the West, with the Jazz claiming top billing by one game. But the Suns swept the season series, 3-0. Had the two teams finished even at the end of the regular season, it would have been the Suns with the top overall seed.
It was a moot point come the postseason, with the Jazz being eliminated in the second round. But homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs is no small deal, and it's very possible that games between these two teams could be the deciding factor in that race. Expect these to be tight matchups.
There's no doubt the Jazz are a good regular-season team. They went 52-20 last year, after all. But it's fair to question whether some of the other teams around the NBA might catch up a little.
The 2020-21 season was a strange one, with a late start and a condensed schedule that seemed to contribute to a lot of injuries. The Jazz weren't immune, with Donovan Mitchell missing 19 games and Conley missing 21. An intriguing thing to watch will be if some contenders make it through the regular season more unscathed now that the more traditional schedule is back in place.
The Jazz didn't make any major changes, with the core intact after Conley was re-signed. Additions like Rudy Gay, Eric Paschall, Hassan Whiteside and Jared Butler should help with depth, but this is a team that is largely running it back. There are still major questions about their ability to defend on the perimeter, a weakness that the Clippers exposed in a major way.
But that may not rear its head until the postseason, where teams are more apt to play smaller against them and force Rudy Gobert to defend on the perimeter, limiting his effectiveness as a rim-protector. The Jazz will have chances before the trade deadline to potentially address that need.
Expect Utah to be in the running for the top seed again next season. Whether they have the roster in place to win a title is another question entirely.
Record Prediction: 55-27
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