We continue today with our third NBA Tuesday miniseries: the best teams in franchise history. It’s time for a look at the Utah Jazz, one of the most successful teams that has never won an NBA title. In 48 seasons, this team has made it to the playoffs 31 times, losing in the Finals twice (1997, 1998) to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Utah had a 20-season streak in the postseason once, too (1984-2003). The franchise actually began in New Orleans (1974) before moving to Salt Lake City in its sixth year.
No. 5: 1995-96 Utah Jazz
With a 55-27 record, this team finished second in the Midwest Division, ending up 12th in offense and sixth in defense. Overall, that added up to the No. 3 rating in the SRS, when factoring in all sabermetrics. In the best-of-five first round, the Jazz knocked off the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 5, and then Utah beat the San Antonio Spurs in the second round, needing six games to do so. In Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, however, the Jazz lost Game 7 on the road to the Seattle SuperSonics by 4 points.
This team had three players posted double-digit Win Shares: power forward Karl Malone (15.1), point guard John Stockton (13.0), and shooting guard Jeff Hornacek (10.2). Malone was a firm MVP candidate, and Stockton was an all-time great. In the series against the SuperSonics, the Jazz battled back from a 3-1 deficit to force Game 7, but trailing by six points entering the fourth quarter, Utah just didn’t have the extra oomph needed to overcome Seattle with Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp.
No. 4: 2007-08 Utah Jazz
After a roster revamp that changed the face of the franchise, this Jazz squad won the Northwest Division with a 54-28 record. The team was fifth in scoring and 13th in defense, adding up to another final No. 3 rating in the SRS. With the first round extended to a best-of-seven, it took Utah six games to beat the Houston Rockets, and in the Western Conference semifinals, the Jazz took on the Los Angeles Lakers. However, L.A. emerged victorious in six games, preventing Utah advancing any deeper into the postseason.
PG Deron Williams (11.3 WS) and PF Carlos Boozer (10.2) carried the team, although they got very good support from SG Ronnie Brewer (7.8) and small forward Andrei Kirilenko (7.1). The playoff series against the Lakers went to formula for the first four games, and after losing Game 5 on the road, the Jazz came back home for Game 6. But Utah got blitzed in the first half, trailing by 19 points at halftime on the way to an eventual 108-105 loss to Pau Gasol and the rest of the Lakers.
No. 3: 1994-95 Utah Jazz
A 60-22 record was only good enough for second place in the Midwest Division, but this Utah roster was fifth in scoring and seventh in defense—and second in the final overall SRS. Unfortunately, they drew the defending champion Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, and the Rockets, as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, kicked off their successful defense with best-of-five series win in a Game 5 on the road. The Rockets won the deciding game by just 4 points to derail Utah title hopes.
The same trio from the 1996 team led the way here in overall value to the team’s success: Stockton (13.9 WS), Malone (13.8), and Hornacek (10.1). No one else on the team managed to crack 5.0 WS for the year. The Jazz must have known it was in for a fight after scrapping out a 2-point victory in Game 1 at home, and the series was rough. Houston won Game 2 on the road, while Utah came back to win Game 3 on the road. In Game 4, the Rockets won by 17 points to carry that momentum over to Game 5.
No. 2: 1996-97 Utah Jazz
After a decade of knocking on the door, the Jazz finally made it to the NBA Finals, only to run up against Jordan on a mission. A 64-18 record, the best in franchise history, won the Midwest Division, as the players finished second in scoring and eighth in defense for another second-place rating in the final overall SRS. Utah swept the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, followed by series wins over the Lakers (5 games) and Rockets (6 games). But the Bulls were just too much in the Finals, winning in six.
With 16.7 Win Shares, Malone won the MVP vote, while Stockton (13.6) and Hornacek (10.2) did their usual duties. SF Bryon Russell (7.4) was a very good addition to the team, despite the infamous play in the 1998 NBA Finals. In these Finals, though, the Bulls won the first two games at home, and then Utah won the next two games at home. The big game was the fifth one, at home for the Jazz. There, a flu-ridden Jordan somehow muscled Chicago to a two-point win, and that was the key to the series, really.
No. 1: 2020-21 Utah Jazz
It may surprise people that the 1997-1998 team didn’t make this list (it was the sixth-best team in organization history). But this squad was obviously pretty good: a 52-20 record in a shortened season, good enough for the top record in the Western Conference. The team finished No. 1 in the SRS, on the backs of the fourth-best offense and the third-best defense. After a 5-game series win to open the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Clippers upset the Jazz in the second round, needing six games to pull it off.
This was truly a team effort, although we will single out four guys: center Rudy Gobert (11.3 WS), SF Joe Ingles (7.0), SG Donovan Mitchell (6.2), and PG Mike Conley (6.1). Overall, Utah saw 7 players post at least 5.0 WS, which is stunning in a shortened season. Gobert won his third DPOY vote this year, by the way. In the Clippers matchup, the Jazz won the first two games at home by a combined 9 points—but then dropped the next four straight by an average of 15 points per game. Ouch!