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Mike Conley of the Utah Jazz hugs Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors at the NBA All-Star Game (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Who Are The Jazz Projected To Face In The NBA Playoffs?

Mike Conley of the Utah Jazz hugs Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors at the NBA All-Star Game (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – With little more than a month remaining in the NBA schedule and the playoff races heating up, it’s time to look at the league’s current standings, and how the Utah Jazz and the rest of the West are projected to finish.

Several websites project the league’s final standings based on current NBA standings, the remaining strength of schedule, and how each team has performed throughout the season.

Here, we will average out the current projections from three different sites; basketball-reference.com, FiveThirtyEight.com, and TeamRankings.com to get a better estimate of how the NBA will shake out, and who the Jazz might expect to face in the playoffs.

First, here are the current Western Conference standings 1-12 as of 4/14, leaving out the teams that are extreme longshots to qualify for the playoffs, or the postseason play-in tournament. Along with the current records, each team’s remaining strength of schedule according to tankathon.com has been added with 1 being the most difficult, and 30 being the easiest.

Green marks an easy remaining schedule, blue marks a moderate remaining schedule, while red implies a difficult close to the season.

Western Conference: 

  1. Utah Jazz (40-14) SOS: 29
  2. Phoenix Suns (39-15) SOS: 4 
  3. Los Angeles Clippers (38-18) SOS: 27
  4. Denver Nuggets (34-20) SOS: 15
  5. Los Angeles Lakers (34-21) SOS: 7
  6. Portland Trail Blazers (31-23) SOS: 3
  7. Dallas Mavericks (29-24) SOS: 30
  8. Memphis Grizzlies (27-25) SOS: 21
  9. San Antonio Spurs (26-26) SOS: 2
  10. Golden State Warriors (26-28) SOS: 25
  11. New Orleans Pelicans (25-29) SOS: 11
  12. Sacramento Kings (22-32) SOS: 12

As you can see, the Jazz find themselves in the enviable spot of having both the best record in the NBA and the second-easiest remaining schedule.

The Suns are within 1.5 games of the Jazz and would own the tie-breaker if the two teams were to finish with an even record, but they also have the fourth most difficult remaining schedule including a brutal five-game East Coast road trip that begins on Monday.

The Clippers sit just 3.5 games back of the Jazz and have a similarly easy schedule, but with just 16 games left to play and having lost the season series, their odds of overtaking the Jazz appear slim.

Outside of the Clippers, no team sits within six games of the Jazz, making a late push to overtake top seed in the standings highly unlikely.

With that in mind, let’s look at the projected win totals from basketball-reference, FiveThirtyEight, and TeamRankings among the West’s top 12 teams and how they average out to create the final standings.

Projected Western Conference NBA Playoff Standings

1. Utah Jazz: 54.1

BR: 54.0

538: 54.0

TR: 54.3

2. Phoenix Suns: 50.2

BR: 50.4

538: 50.0

TR: 50.4

3. Los Angeles Clippers: 49.0

BR: 48.9

538: 49

TR: 49.3

4. Denver Nuggets: 45.2

BR: 45.2

538: 45.0

TR: 45.4

5. Los Angeles Lakers: 43.9

BR: 43.6

538: 44.0

TR: 44.1

6. Dallas Mavericks: 40.9

BR: 40.6

538: 41.0

TR: 41.1

7. Portland Trail Blazers: 39.3

BR: 38.8

538: 40.0

TR: 39.1

8. Memphis Grizzlies: 37.5

BR: 38.0

538: 37.0

TR: 37.6

9. Golden State Warriors: 35.1

BR: 35.1

538: 35.0

TR: 35.3

10. New Orleans Pelicans: 33.9

BR: 33.9

538: 34.0

TR: 33.8

11. San Antonio Spurs: 33.3

BR: 33.7

538: 33.0

TR: 33.3

12. Sacramento Kings: 29.5

BR: 29.4

538: 30.0

TR: 29.2

As the projections show, the Jazz should not only retain their spot atop the West, they should put significant distance between themselves and the Suns by the end of the season, potentially allowing for extra rest over the stretch of games.

There are only five teams projected to change their current positions by season’s end, though each change would have major consequences.

First, towards the bottom of the standings, the Spurs are projected to drop from the ninth seed down to 11th over the next 16 games. That’s a major drop as it moves San Antonio out of the postseason play-in tournament and firmly into the lottery.

Both the Warriors and the Pelicans are projected to pass the Spurs for a chance to compete for the two final seeds in the playoffs. It’s worth noting the Spurs will travel to play the Pelicans on April 24, a game that will have enormous playoff implications as the two teams are projected to finish just .6 games apart from one another.

Additionally, San Antonio finishes the season with back-to-back games against the Suns who could be resting players at the end of the year should the top seeds in the West already be decided.

Among teams projected to finish in the top eight, the Mavericks who have the easiest remaining schedule are projected to overtake the Trail Blazers for the West’s sixth seed by the end of the year.

That would allow Dallas to avoid the postseason play-in tournament, while the Trail Blazers would be left having to fight their way into the playoffs against the Grizzlies and then potentially the Warriors or Pelicans. It’s worth noting that Portland does own the tie-breaker Dallas by way of winning the season series 2-1.

With the projections averaged out, here’s what the Western Conference playoff bracket would look like and who the Jazz would face throughout the postseason.

Bracket one: 

1. Utah Jazz vs. 8. Memphis Grizzlies

4. Denver Nuggets vs. 5. Los Angeles Lakers

Bracket two: 

2. Phoenix Suns vs. 7. Portland Trail Blazers

3. Los Angeles Clippers vs. 6. Dallas Mavericks

Currently, the Jazz are 3-0 against the Grizzlies should Memphis advance through the play-in tournament. The Jazz are 2-0 against the Trail Blazers, 1-1 against the Warriors, and 2-1 against the Pelicans, all of whom they could face in the opening round.

Should the Jazz advance out of the first round, they are projected to face either the Lakers or Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals. The Jazz are 2-1 against these teams this season having so far split the series with the Nuggets 1-1 while winning their only matchup against the Lakers.

The Jazz will face Los Angles twice in the coming week, though neither game should be indicative of what a playoff series would look like. The Lakers won’t have either LeBron James or Anthony Davis when the two teams matchup on Saturday and Monday.

The Nuggets meanwhile suffered an enormous blow to their championship hopes earlier this when guard Jamal Murry went down with a season-ending ACL injury. The Nuggets and Lakers have split the season series so far, with the final matchup being played in Los Angeles on May 3 which could serve as a first-round series preview.

In bracket two, the Suns and Clippers look poised to match up in the Western Conference Semifinals. To date, the Clippers have won both meetings between the two teams with the final game being played on April 28 in Los Angeles. With the teams projected to finish just 1.2 games apart in the current averages, that final meeting could have big implications on the final Western Conference standings.

Ultimately, the Jazz appear poised to own home-court advantage throughout their playoff run regardless of how long they survive. While the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets battle it out for the top seed in the East, neither team is projected to win more than 50 games on the season, giving the Jazz home-court advantage should they reach the Finals.

The Jazz should coast to the top seed in the West over the final month of the season, but how their standings shake out behind them should be an exciting race

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