SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz clobbered the San Antonio Spurs 126-94 to sweep the series three games to zero. With the win, teamed with a Phoenix Suns loss, the Jazz retook the top seed in the Western Conference with just six games left to play in the regular season.
Jordan Clarkson exploded for 30 points in just 24 minutes while Bojan Bogdanovic scored 24 in 25 minutes as the Jazz easily disposed of San Antonio.
No Spurs played scored more than 15 points as the 10th seeded team scored just 63 points before playing mostly younger players over the final quarter of the game.
Value Of The Top Seed For The Jazz
While much of the attention on the Jazz potential playoff seeding has been focused on who they might match up against in the second round of the playoffs, the value of who they face in the first round should not be overlooked.
Whether the Jazz finish with the first seed or the second seed (a near-certainty at this point) they’ll be playing one of the four teams that qualify for the playoffs via the play-in tournament.
That tournament pits the seventh-seeded team against the eighth-seeded team with the winner of that game earning the seventh seed and a date with the two seed in the first round.
The loser of that game would face the winner of the game between the ninth and tenth seed, with that winner then claiming the eighth seed.
After sweeping the Spurs, the Jazz are now projected to finish the season with the best record in the NBA by two games over the Suns, doubling the projection heading into the night.
If the play-in tournament started today, the Portland Trail Blazers would face the Memphis Grizzlies for the seventh-seed, while the Golden State Warriors would face the Spurs for a chance to win the loser of the Blazers and Grizzlies.
However, according to FiveThirtyEight, a popular data projection website, they expect the final seeding to pit the Los Angeles Lakers against the Grizzlies with the winner earning the second seed, and the loser facing either the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs for the eighth-seed.
While the Lakers have been struggling of late, it’s difficult to imagine them not being able to win a play-in matchup against any opponent with Anthony Davis and LeBron James in the lineup.
That would leave the Grizzlies, Warriors, and Spurs battling it out for the eighth and final seed.
How big of a gap is there between the Lakers and those three teams? Even though there’s a very definite possibility that they’ll have to start every playoff series on the road, the Lakers still have an 11 percent chance of making the Finals according to FiveThirtyEight.
The Grizzlies, Warriors, and Spurs each have less than a one percent chance.
Additionally, even if the Lakers were to lose their opening-round series, it’s unlikely James and Davis would go out in a quick four games. The Jazz are 2-1 this season against the Lakers, though the two teams never faced one another at full strength.
Meanwhile, the Jazz are a combined 9-1 against the Grizzlies, Warriors, and Spurs, with one game remaining against Golden State before the season ends.
With Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell still working their way back from injury, a quick first-round series with rest before the second round. No playoff series is easy, but the physical toll of having to battle James in a best of seven-game series is a daunting task, even when compared to Stephen Curry and the Warriors.
There’s no way for the Jazz to guarantee their first-round opponent as long as they are destined to face one of the four play-in tournament opponents, but for now, avoiding the Lakers is probably a good start.
Playing At Home At All Costs
In addition to potentially avoiding James in the first round, there is added value for the Jazz to know they’ll open every series at home regardless of how deep they advance into the playoffs.
As they showed against the Spurs, the Jazz have been nearly unbeatable at home this season, improving to 29-4 at Vivint Arena, a full four games better than any other team playing at home this year.
But it isn’t as if the Jazz are squeaking out close wins at home due to the crowd noise or friendly hometown whistle, the Jazz are simply obliterating opponents in Salt Lake City.
The Jazz net rating in Utah is 13.8, nearly five points better per 100 possessions than the second-highest ranked Suns. Their 117.7 offensive rating ranks second in the league behind only the Los Angeles Clippers, and their 103.9 defensive rating tops in the league, beating the second-place Lakers by 2.3 points per game.
The team’s four losses this season have come by a combined 25 points with only one loss coming by double-digits. On the flip side, the Jazz has only had five wins in Utah decided by fewer than 10 points.
That means a staggering 24 wins at Vivint Arena have come by at least 10 points. Of those 24, 15 have come by at least 15 points, seven have come by 20 or more, and four have come by 30 or more.
That isn’t to say the Jazz haven’t been excellent on the road, having won 19 of 33 games away from Utah with 13 of the team’s 19 wins have come by at least 10. However, their advanced ratings drop significantly.
While the Jazz have the top net rating at home by an enormous margin, they drop to third in the NBA away from Utah at just 4.7 points per 100 possessions.
Their offensive rating drops from second in the league down to fifth at 115.3 from 117.7, and their defensive rating takes an even bigger drop from 103.9 and tops in the league to 110.6 and ninth in the NBA.
Though the team’s metrics are still strong on the road, they’re nowhere near as impressive as when the Jazz are playing in Salt Lake City. While fans may want to focus on who they could face as the postseason rolls on, beginning each series in Utah with a potential Game Seven at Vivint Arena may be more important to the team’s championship hopes than their opponent.
The Jazz will get another good test Friday night when the third-seeded Denver Nuggets travel to Utah having won nine of their last 11 games.