The Utah Jazz returned to the playoffs for the first time in five years, but were undone in the Western Conference Semi-Finals by the juggernaut of the Golden State Warriors.
The Jazz last appeared in the post-season back in the 2011-12 campaign, only to be hammered in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs in a 4-0 defeat.
It took five seasons for Utah to return, with head coach Quin Snyder achieving the feat in his third term at the club.
Utah secured their first Western Conference Northwest division crown since the 2009-10 campaign courtesy of a 51-win season, notching the fifth seed in the process.
Their strong defensive record was the foundation of their improvement this term, allowing the fewest points in the NBA over the course of the season.
Although their offensive output was one of the worst in the league, the quality of their play in and around their own net made up for their struggles at the other end of the court.
Rudy Gobert was their standout player throughout the term, leading the league in blocks, and his performances were good enough to be considered in the NBA All-Defensive First Team along with the All-NBA Second Team.
Their defensive brilliance allowed Snyder’s men to overcome the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs in a seven-match thriller.
However, they did not have the quality to contend with the Warriors in the Conference Semi-Finals, suffering a sweep at the hands of the Bay Area outfit.
Unfortunately for the Jazz they’ve been hit with a series of exits, with Gordon Hayward headlining the departures. As a result, the club will face a challenge to repeat their success next term.
The Jazz began the campaign with a defeat at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers on the road, despite a 29-point performance from Joe Johnson.
Snyder’s men got on the board in their home opener against the Los Angeles Lakers, with George Hill leading the way with 23 points in a seven-point win.
However, the first month of the season ended on a low note, in a low-scoring loss to the Clippers at the Staples Center.
They responded at the beginning of November, producing an excellent performance on the road to defeat the Spurs before notching another win over the Dallas Mavericks. George Hill and Gobert played a vital role in both victories, highlighting their importance to Snyder’s side.
The Spurs soon got their revenge, but Hayward came to the fore to help deliver four victories on their travels, overcoming the New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat.
Four defeats on the bounce put the Jazz below .500 for the first time in the campaign, but their response was emphatic. Hayward and Hill ensured that their side hit back with four successive victories, securing triumphs over the Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets.
Utah carried that momentum into December, although the month began with a narrow defeat to the Heat. A run of seven wins in eight moved the club in the right direction, losing only to the Golden State Warriors by seven points during the period, despite limiting them to 106 points.
The Warriors ended a run of three-straight victories with another win at Oracle Arena, while losses to the Sacramento Kings and the Toronto Raptors followed. However, 2016 ended on a strong note for Snyder’s men with three wins on the spin, leaving them at 21-13.
January proved to be another strong month for the Jazz, although it began with three defeats in their opening five matches. A victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers kick-started a six-match winning streak, including an overtime win over the Mavericks.
Hayward, Gobert and Hill maintained the high level of their displays at the beginning of February, winning their opening four matches of the month. Hayward put in his best display of the term against the Boston Celtics, scoring 41 points, but not even that was enough to secure a win.
The Jazz remained on course for the playoffs throughout the month and after the All-Star break as Hayward and Gobert delivered wins over the Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards. The club won six of their opening eight matches at the beginning of March to signal their intent for a high seed in the post-season.
Three defeats on the bounce during the middle of the month derailed their ambitions, but they finished the regular campaign by winning seven of their last nine to head into the playoffs with momentum.
Joe Johnson got them off to a perfect start in their clash with the Clippers on the road, scoring 21 points in a narrow win at the Staples Center. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul hit back to hand LA the advantage, despite a 40-pointer from Hayward in game three.
The Jazz were able to get back on track and played the next two games on their terms to retake the advantage, only for Paul and DeAndre Jordan to take the series into a decider. Hayward rose to the occasion to secure the win to advance, although the step up against the Warriors proved to be too much as Snyder’s men never came closing to matching Golden State.
For a team not renowned for their scoring prowess, losing both Hayward and Hill will be huge for the club next season. Hayward has joined the Celtics to link up with his former college coach Brad Stevens, while Hill penned a three-year deal with the Kings.
The Jazz were left scrambling to find replacements, and pulled off a good trade to acquire Ricky Rubio from the Timberwolves. The 26-year-old will replace Hill in the side, and although he can’t off the same production in terms of point scoring, his ability to create opportunities for his team-mates should allow others to thrive.
Much will be expected of Rodney Hood to take his game to the next level after another solid campaign in the league. He averaged 12.5 points per game last term, but Snyder will be demanding more of the forward following Hayward’s departure.
Gobert too will have to increase his production. It would be harder for him to have a better defensive campaign than his last one, but if he does, he will challenge Draymond Green for Defensive Player of Year.
The Jazz selected Donovan Mitchell and Tony Bradley in the first round of the 2017 Draft. Mitchell will have to hit the ground running and could offer his team an outlet in the final third of the court after averaging 15.6 points per game during his final year in college.
It will be difficult for Utah to return to the post-season next term due to their losses – therefore their odds of +8000 with SkyBet to win the Western Conference should be treated with caution and only a small punt at the most.
For US betters check out this list of bookmakers – https://www.sbo.net/country/us/ – in order to get the best odds for the 2017-18 season.
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