The Utah Jazz have been one of the more surprising teams this season, playing above their expectations and putting themselves in position to reach the 2023 NBA Playoffs despite trading away all of their starters from last season.
You don't need any numbers to tell you just how rare of a feat that is.
Nonetheless, while the Jazz have overperformed this season — even sending four players to various All-Star events — they're still a rebuilding team. They weren't built with a deep run in the 2023 NBA Playoffs in mind. Therefore, they aren't quite as talented as some of the other teams they would be bound to face in the Western Conference Playoffs if they made a deep enough run.
That being said, there are still a couple of teams that present easier paths to a first-round victory than others. After all, the playoffs are all about matchups and seeding.
Jazz's dream seeding scenario, matchup for 2023 NBA Playoffs
At 35-37, the Utah Jazz are currently 11th in the Western Conference standings but are just 2.0 games back from tying the Golden State Warriors for the sixth seed. This is the seed that the Jazz should be aiming for in order to face the Sacramento Kings, their best matchup in the 2023 NBA Playoffs among Western Conference teams.
Because the Kings have had a Cinderella season and are preparing to make their first postseason run since 2006, it would be a bittersweet victory for the Jazz to get this matchup and take down Sacramento in the first round. Nonetheless, business is business, and NBA teams are in the business of winning games.
The on-court matchup between the Jazz and the Kings would be interesting. The primary reason why is because while Sacramento can have a balanced inside-outside attack, their best players — De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis — are better scorers the closer to the rim they are.
Utah, armed with shot-blocking specialist Walker Kessler and a group of athletic, aggressive defenders in the backcourt in Kris Dunn, Collin Sexton, and Ochai Agbaji, will have as good of a chance of slowing down Sacramento's star duo as any team.
Sabonis shoots a respectable 35.1 percent from 3-point range, but he only takes 1.1 3-point attempts per game. Conversely, 47.7 percent of his field goal attempts come within three feet of the rim.
A similar picture can be painted for Fox. Though playing at an All-NBA level this season, he shoots just 34.2 percent on 3s while taking 5.0 per game. 42.0 percent of his field goal attempts come within 10 feet of the rim.
Kessler won't be able to turn away all of these shots by himself. However, it's important to note the defensive growth of Lauri Markkanen, not just the offensive growth. Aware of how to use his length to alter shots, Markkanen's presence will always be worth noting whenever Fox canters into the paint.
Of course, the 3-point prowess of forwards Keegan Murray and Harrison Barnes could make over-helping a dangerous decision. Nonetheless, both Murray and Barnes are more often off-ball threats than players who do their damage off-the-dribble. Subsequently, crisp and timely help defense could help negate their potential to hurt them from deep.
Matching The Firepower
Another reason for the Jazz to desire a matchup with the Kings is their firepower in the second unit.
A major strength of Sacramento lies in their bench and presumed Sixth Man of the Year candidate Malik Monk. However, whether it's Sexton or Jordan Clarkson coming off of their bench, Utah should have enough firepower on it to keep pace with Sacramento.
The 24-year-old Sexton is averaging 14.3 points per game this season while shooting 50.7 percent from the field and 41.0 percent from 3.
All in all, there's no guarantee that Utah could defeat Sacramento in the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
That's particularly true if the Kings have homecourt advantage. Their impressive season and ‘Light The Beam‘ campaign is sure to bring a raucous crowd into the Golden 1 Center.
Still, the Jazz have to give themselves a fighting chance of advancing in the playoffs.
This would be their best chance.