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SALT LAKE CITY - The Utah Jazz had expectations that they were going to finish somewhere in the playoff race. Exactly where the Jazz would land from just outside of the playoffs to maybe a home series is up for question. But simply by being healthy the Jazz's chances have improved.
Before some key injuries the Jazz were pretty much set inside the playoffs by most prognosticators in the area of the seventh seed. Now the Jazz could be having higher expectations with the losses of teams around them.
The Dallas Mavericks have lost their heart and soul in Dirk Nowitzki, for some six weeks. The Minnesota Timberwolves lost their best player Kevin Love and probably won't have Ricky Rubio to start the season. The fringe, and sometimes sexy pick to surprise, playoff team is the Golden State Warriors, but they might be without Andrew Bogut and Steph Curry for a little while.
These teams will be fighting with the Jazz for playoff spots, some have, or had, the Timberwolves as a very high-seed in the playoffs, ESPN had them third in the West. That would be four spots above the Jazz, but without Love and Rubio the Jazz could suddenly enter the sixth spot and watch the T-Wolves fall.
John Hollinger had the two teams tied for seventh in his prediction. This could very well put the Jazz up again. The Mavericks losing Nowitzki will help the Jazz in game one of the regular season, which is only one week away on Halloween in Utah. The two teams played four times last year and Dirk was great in all of the games, scoring 40 in the last two. The Mavs won three of the four.
This is why D.J. Foster of NBC Sports has said that the Jazz have won the preseason. He wrote that the Jazz won't be a trendy pick to win, but now they will surprise with these developments.
"Previously, it was easy to write off Utah as a return playoff team when there were much sexier options like Minnesota, Dallas and Golden State available, but the Jazz are winning the war of attrition and it's not even September yet. Already missing Ricky Rubio, Minnesota has lost Kevin Love for 6 weeks thanks to some failed Rocky-style training. Dallas will be without Dirk Nowitzki for a similar time frame as he undergoes knee surgery. And Golden State? Andrew Bogut is still a 'maybe' for the start of the season, while poor Steph Curry just sprained his surgically repaired ankle yet again last night."
One of the big questions of the season is about the depth being used the right way. But, there is a good guess that having a backup for Love, Nowitzki, Rubio or Curry would probably be welcome to those teams.
Even outside of the conference the Jazz will catch some breaks with injured teams. According to the injury report on cbssports.com they will get to play a few teams early on that are hurting.
They play New Orleans twice in November and they have Eric Gordon still questionable for the start of the regular season along with rookie Austin Rivers. They will play the Wizards without John Wall and maybe Nene.
The 82-game season will come with casualties. Some easy games could go help out the Jazz in the long run. The Jazz are without a superstar, but they are deep, two-deep at every position. That is more than the Timberwolves and Mavericks can boast, and they are now without a superstar as well.