The Utah Jazz are off to a scorching 17-5 start this season, good for first place in the Western Conference. Albeit they’ve been a playoff participant in each of the last four seasons, the 2020-21 NBA season has brought out the best version of the Jazz under head coach Quin Snyder.

Utah’s prolific start is reminiscent of the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks.

The 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks

Once upon a time, the Atlanta Hawks made the playoffs in 10 consecutive seasons (2008-17). In the latter half of those seasons, a core began to come into its own as Joe Johnson neared the back nine of his respective career, which helped Atlanta remain a considerable threat in the Eastern Conference (Al Horford, Jeff Teague, and eventually Paul Millsap subbed in for Josh Smith).

Although they were a frequent playoff participant, the Hawks didn’t fare well in such play. In fact, they reached the playoffs in 2014 at just 38-44. Furthermore, they were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round in three consecutive seasons (2012-14). Then their fortunes changed.

The Hawks got out to a stupendous start in the 2014-15 season, staying atop the conference for the bulk of the regular season. Already a team that shared the sugar and scored at a high clip, head coach Mike Budenholzer’s roster began scoring with more efficiency and made their presence felt defensively, which they struggled to do in past seasons. They finished the regular season fifth in the NBA in opponent points per game (97.1 points per game).

They were an infectious team that was fun to watch. They did a little bit of everything and didn’t have a standout star, rather a bunch of great but not elite players (DeMarre Carroll, Kyle Korver, and Dennis Schroder). They had a little 2004 Detroit Pistons to them.

This was the year the Hawks made some headway in the standings (they finished first in the East at 60-22) and became a force in the East after years of playoff shortcomings.

The 2020-21 Utah Jazz

In each of the last three seasons (the first three seasons without Gordon Hayward and the first three seasons with Donovan Mitchell), the Jazz has gone no further than the second round of the playoffs. As previously alluded to, they’re having their way thus far this season.

A traditionally defensive-minded team that operates in the halfcourt, the Jazz have experienced growth offensively. Instead of outside shooting and occasional Donovan Mitchell isolation play, the Jazz went into Friday averaging 113.7 points per game.

It’s not just Mitchell and everybody else. Bojan Bogdanovic has been a well-rounded scorer, Rudy Gobert has been assertive in the paint, Mike Conley has been what Utah acquired him to be a year and a half ago, and Jordan Clarkson is on pace to be a finalist for the Sixth Man of the Year Award. Meanwhile, Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale stretch the floor and serve as defensive disrupters.

The Jazz are beating everybody. They’ve won 13 of their last 14 games. These wins have come against the Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, and Dallas Mavericks (twice). That’s pretty good. The Jazz is handling oppositions they’ll have to overcome in the spring to win the Western Conference. This team has never looked better. They’re playing like a well-oiled machine and a team that has figured it out, reaching their potential.

How does it end?

Does Utah hold the same fate as Atlanta?

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The 2014-15 Hawks were a mixed bag. On one hand, they dominated the East in the regular season and won a pair of hard-fought series against the Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards. On the other hand, their season ended in dispiriting fashion, as they were swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were without Kevin Love due to a shoulder injury while Kyrie Irving missed two games in the series due to a knee injury, in the Eastern Conference Finals.

For eight consecutive seasons, the team that won the East was spearheaded by James, and the Hawks were among the recurring victims of James in his early 30s. The team he was on, whether it be the Cavs or Miami Heat, was the team no one could beat in the playoffs. Atlanta looked like a prime candidate to end James’ streak. They were ultimately unsuccessful.

As is, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are the team to beat in the West. They’re the reigning NBA champions, have the best star duo in the sport in James and Anthony Davis, and possess a well-versed rotation. It’s ironic and speaks volumes how James’ teams end up being the boogeyman in both the past and present, right?

Utah doesn’t have Los Angeles’ star power. What they have is continuity and momentum on their side. Is it enough to come through with series wins against the Lakers, Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, and other Western Conference powerhouses? The Jazz are coming off blowing a 3-1 first-round series lead to the Nuggets. They’ve been in the mix every year but done nothing. They look different, but will the end result be different than the Hawks, who were in a near-identical situation six years ago?

Time will tell.