SALT LAKE CITY – True to form, the Western Conference’s top four seeds have each advanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs.
Come on, nothing to see there. In other words, neither of these teams accomplished anything beyond expectations.
The only possible exception is the second-seeded Phoenix Suns, who knocked out the defending champion and hampered the injured Los Angeles Lakers. The Denver Nuggets deserve a little nod for beating the always underwhelming Portland Trail Blazers in the playoffs without second-leading scorer Jamal Murray.
For the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers, the first round was dog bites, man. The only way each series would have been newsworthy was if one or both lost, which didn’t happen, although surprisingly the Clippers needed seven games to handle the Dallas Mavericks.
Overall, barring some unlikely heroic last-second play in the final game, no seed has celebrated their first-round victory beyond the usual handshakes. This rings especially true for teams with legitimate championship aspirations, knowing that the playoffs last two months.
As the seed, a designation given to them for having the best conference record, the Jazz had the easiest route to the second round sending out the Memphis Grizzlies in five games. With the ninth-best record in the 72-game regular season, the Grizzlies beat the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors in the play-in tournament to advance to the playoffs.
As impressive as the first round victory is, the Jazz won’t get much credit for beating a team that was clearly outclassed. Even Memphis’ lone win was seen as a fluke with extenuating circumstances due to Donovan Mitchell’s inability to play with an ankle injury. With Mitchell back, the Jazz have won four straight games and rarely lagged behind in any of them.
If the Jazz are looking for widespread respect, they must beat the fourth-seeded Clippers in the next top-seven series. It’s time for the Jazz to live up to the expectations that invariably stem from the best record in the conference and, in this case, the best overall rating in the NBA.
Stand up or shut up, it’s here for Jazz in the next two weeks.
No excuse now, unless a wave of injuries decimates the list. Not even the missing goalie Mike Conley, who is listed as day-to-day with slight hamstring strain, is enough to justify the favorite Jazz blowing this streak.
For many NBA pundits, the Clippers have the best team in the West capable of finally getting through years of frustrating and pathetic play. The all-important championship pedigree is there with two-time winner Kawhi Leonard and Tyronn Lue, who won one as the Cleveland Cavaliers coach in 2016.
This Jazz lineup has seen little success beyond the first round, with a core losing twice in the second round since making the playoffs in Quin Snyder’s third year as a coach. Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson each played a limited role with the Washington Wizards and Cavaliers, respectively, in the Eastern Conference teams that advanced to the second round.
And don’t be fooled by the standings, which showed the Clippers finished five games behind the Jazz. The Clippers orchestrated the fourth-place finish, as Leonard and fellow star Paul George combined to miss 38 games.
The prevailing idea was that the Clippers didn’t want to be part of the Lakers, preferring to play against their rivals in crosstown only if both teams made it to the Western Conference Finals. Whether they admit it or not, the Clippers believed the easiest route to get there was through the Dallas Mavericks and then the Jazz.
The Clippers got what they wanted, facing a seed many critics question. Now it’s up to Jazz to silence the skeptics.