Utah Jazz: Playoff credentials will become clear in December

(Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The NBA season spans from October through April but for the Utah Jazz, December is when their playoff hopes will be determined.

You know it’s August when debates start to rage about games that haven’t been played yet, but that’s where we are at after the NBA schedule was released on Monday.

For the Utah Jazz, their eyes went straight for their first matchup with the Boston Celtics, then to when they would be visiting the freshly renovated Vivint Arena.

The reception is going to be interesting.

It’s probably lucky for Gordon Hayward that their first meeting comes in Boston on Dec. 15. He can break the ice with his former teammates before he has no place to hide upon his return to Utah on March 28. By all accounts, many of his former fans won’t be welcoming.

After circling Dec. 15 and March 28 on the calendar, Jazz fans may begin to notice the season starts a week earlier than it did in 2016.

Sekou Smith of NBA.com reported that the revised start date is as much for the players as it is for the overeager fans desperate to talk about on-court action in place of mind-numbing player ranking debates:

"“In a continued effort to reduce travel stress and provide players with more recovery time, the season will be extended by a full week. Stretches where teams play four games in five nights have been completely eliminated, marking the first time in the NBA’s 72-year history with no four-in-fives.”"

In a season where they have already been written off after Hayward’s departure, the Jazz have been blessed with a home-friendly stretch to start the season. Of the first 14 games, 10 will be at home.

The Denver Nuggets are up first with a trip to the Minnesota Timberwolves a night later giving us our first taste of what this Jazz squad can offer in 2017-18.

A good stint in Utah ends with a four-game road trip that, this early on, looks as though 2-2 would be the minimum. The New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers are all beatable on their home floors.

The early season schedule is kind to the Jazz. They have time to feel out the differences of 2016-17 and get on the front foot. Dec 9-20 does offer up an awful six-game road trip, though. That will give us a clear indication of where the Hayward-less Jazz are at and when their playoff credentials will be first scrutinized.

Away trips to visit the Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago Bulls, Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder appear to be the toughest stretch of the season. Apart from the Bulls — who could be one of the worst teams in the league this season — those are all playoff-bound teams.

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If the Jazz think they are really going to move forward this season with the same expectations for a new-look team, December is when they make noise.

Ricky Rubio will have had 26 games to get familiar with the scheme. Rudy Gobert wants to display a complete offensive game which, if not evident by this stretch, is unlikely to surface at all. Almost as important as those two is Rodney Hood. His recent injury history needs to be a thing of the past with his health being paramount in the opening weeks of the season.

Has Dante Exum taken a leap? Is Donovan Mitchell serviceable or just another Summer League standout?

These narratives and questions will linger all season, but December is when we can start to seriously assess Quin Snyder’s plan to build a team around defense while the rest of the league looks to score at a record-setting pace.

After years of mediocrity, the man they thought was their savior upped sticks and left. That will fuel this group. But in a loaded West, playing with a crater on their shoulder might not be enough.

Next: The biggest winners and losers of 2017 NBA free agency

We will know what this team is made of in due course, but more specifically, as we head into the festive period.