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RANDY HOLLIS: Will the Jazz be able to overcome inconsistency?

RANDY HOLLIS

Editor’s note: originally ran before Dallas eliminated Utah in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

When it comes to this year’s NBA playoffs, Utah’s favorite professional team reminds me a lot of that old-time (and recently reincarnated with much more humor) television series “To Tell the Truth.” 

You know how it works. One contestant is the real deal, and the other two are imposters. After answering questions from a panel of celebrities, the host says, “Will the real (fill in the blank here) please stand up?” Following a roller-coaster regular season in which the Jazz alternately beat most of the league’s best teams only to inexplicably lose to some of the bottom-feeders, and displayed a terrible tendency to squander double-digit leads, we must ask the question:   Will the real Utah Jazz please stand up? (Oh, and please play the way you’re capable of, for hell sakes).   

With their first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks set to tip off Saturday in Big D, the Jazz find themselves in a position to either prove the doubters wrong and redeem themselves for a somewhat disappointing, under-achieving season, or show that they are indeed imposters themselves.   

Indeed, the one thing that’s been consistent about the Jazz this season has been their inconsistency. On their way to a 49-33 record and fifth-place finish in the Western Conference, they’ve certainly shown the ability to beat many of the league’s top dogs — overall No. 1 seed Phoenix, Boston, defending champion Milwaukee (on the Bucks’ home floor, no less), Memphis, Philadelphia (sweeping the season series), Dallas and Toronto.   

Utah has shown two glaring weaknesses this season: 

1. As has been well-documented in recent weeks, the Jazz squandered double-digit leads in a whopping 16 of their 33 losses. That severe lack of a killer extinct was never more evident, or destructive, than in Game 6 of that playoff series against the Clippers last year. Utah led that game by 25 points early in the second half, but the Jazz could not find a way to stop the Clippers’ Terrance Mann, who poured in a career-high 39 points in the Clippers’ series-clinching comeback win. To put Mann’s eye-popping performance in its proper perspective, he had scored a total of just 25 points in the first five games of that playoff series, and he averaged just 10.8 points per game this season — little more than one-fourth of what he scored against Utah in that stunning playoff win last June.   
2. Utah’s other big weakness this season has been its inability to win on the road. After winning 14 of their first 17 road games, the Jazz sputtered badly the rest of the way, losing 18 of their last 24 games away from their raucous home court. The fact that they faded down the stretch of the regular season, dropping from third place to fifth in the final Western Conference standings, means that the Jazz won’t likely hold the home-court advantage against any opponent in this postseason. And that’s too bad, because the Jazz went 29-12 at Vivint Arena, and only three teams in the entire NBA had better home records than Utah did this season.   
And so it begins. 
 Utah coach Quin Snyder and his players are certainly saying all the right things in the leadup to Saturday’s playoff opener. Snyder points out that this is the healthiest his team has been at this juncture of the season in the last three years. Injuries to key players have continually been cited for Utah’s failures during the past two postseasons, and that is certainly a legitimate issue. Bojan Bogdanovic was sidelined when the Jazz, in frustrating fashion, blew a 3-1 first-round series lead against the Denver Nuggets in 2020, while Jazz guards Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley were both hobbled and hurting in last year’s playoffs, although Mitchell scored 39 points in the finale and averaged nearly 35 ppg for the series. I mean, how much more could he be expected to do?  And, as has been previous mentioned and must be stated again, the Clippers were without undeniably their best player, Leonard, and yet still found a way to come back and beat the Jazz in Games 5 and 6 of last year’s playoff series. Too many Jazz fans, and even a lot of media members in Utah, seem much to willing to overlook Leonard’s absence in the final two games of that postseason failure by the Jazz. Instead, they’re eager to blame Utah’s playoff loss on those injuries to Mitchell and Conley — ”Hey, if our guys woulda been healthy, we’d have won …” — which sounds too much like an excuse to some of us.   
So, it’s time to put up or shut up for the Jazz. Another playoff failure could possibly signal the need for some major changes for the franchise moving forward. That remains to be seen.   
But the bottom line is this: If Utah hopes to advance in this year’s playoffs, the Jazz must find a way to hold onto those double-digit leads that it has too often surrendered, and they most also win on the road in order to win a series or two. Their maddening inconsistency will not allow them to stay alive in the postseason for very long. So, again, we ask the question: Will the real Utah Jazz please stand up?   
And, for the sake of your fans’ sanity, play the way obviously you’re capable of.
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