A Look at the Jazz
It's been a while since we've seen Utah. Though they're obviously two very different teams our story arc against the Jazz has mirrored the one against the Phoenix Suns so far. We played them twice at their place early on and lost. Just when it looked like they might have our number we pull out a redemptive win at home. And now the final match has arrived, determining whether we'll end the season tied heads-up or go down 1-3. Let's hope the Blazers remember what the win against Phoenix felt like. We could use a repeat performance tonight.
Since the Blazers defeated them on the last day of January Utah has been on quite a roll. They've gone 20-5 since, to be exact. Their offense has been impressive. They notched 105+ in 13 of those 25 games. Deron Williams has been lighting it up with a little help from Mehmet Okur. Carlos Boozer was injured through February and hasn't gotten back on the big-time scoring track since his return but he's been posting triple-doubles like he's been channeling the ghost of Jason Kidd.
(For the youngsters in the crowd Jason Kidd was an old-time point guard who used to notch triple-doubles every other night or so in his prime. He also was a pretty good defender which made him quite val...what? No ghost to channel? He's still alive? Well I'll be darned. Let me know what retirement home he's in so I can send an apology note for the comment then. Huh? He's still PLAYING?!? What kind of team would...oh. Dallas. Well, I'm sure they didn't give up too much for him anyway. WHAT? They did WHAT??? OK, just stop. April Fool's Day isn't until tomorrow. What do you take me for, anyway?)
So anyway, back to the Jazz. They're playing quite well. The one thing you can say about their run lately is that only about 1/3 of those opponents were playoff teams. But once you're on a roll you can win against any level of competition. They're a far better home team than road team, however. In this 20-5 stretch they have not beaten an above-.500 team on the road. In fact they've only managed that feat twice all year.
As has been typical the last few years the Jazz trade on their offense. They are excellent percentage shooters and first in the league overall in assists. Those two stats go hand in hand for them. They don't take many stupid shots. They love screens and are more than competent in their mid-range game. They're tricky to guard because they always seem to have options and they know how to take advantage of them. You can't just deny one player, set, or spot on the floor and solve them. Their point guard can post and drive. Their center can shoot outside. Boozer can do whatever you need. They can run and play in the halfcourt. They make you play honest defense for 48 minutes at multiple positions. Utah is 3rd in the league in free throws attempted and made, which generates those critical extra points. Outside of a couple players (Okur, Kyle Korver, C.J. Miles) they're not proficient from distance. They don't rely on the long ball much, however. It's a refresher between courses instead of a main dish.
The Jazz have made strides defensively this year as well. They're tied with Denver for 9th in the league in defensive efficiency. They try to get after you on the perimeter. They force steals and mistakes. This masks their deficiencies inside. When they can't follow the script defensively Utah gets in trouble. They allow a lot of points on the fastbreak and in the paint. They break down more on the road, allowing 4 more fastbreak points and 2 more points inside on average. 6 points make a big difference in the average NBA game.
Utah is a good offensive rebounding team but suffers on the defensive end. Their defensive rebounding also falls off a cliff on the road.
Shooting guard Ronnie Brewer and small forward C.J. Miles join the Big Three in the starting lineup. Brewer has been generating points recently and his athleticism is a good complement to the skill of the frontcourt and Deron Williams' game. Miles is a defender and distance shooter. Their return to health has made the Jazz bench deeper. Paul Millsap now comes off of the pines along with Kyle Korver, Matt Harpring, and a still-hobbled Andrei Kirilenko. They've got a mix of scoring, hustle, and defense there.
Keys to the Game
1. This is a big game for the Jazz. The best way to counter any drive they might summon is to do exactly what we did to Phoenix the other night: put them down early and never let it be a ballgame. Utah is a playoff team. Utah is a good team. Utah has had neither success nor positive feedback on the road this year. They're also on the second night of a back-to-back while we're rested. Make it easy for them to lose.
2. The battle of the big men is always pivotal when these two teams meet. You'll see a direct contrast of styles in the middle. Mehmet Okur, an offensive center, plays outside and wants to draw our guys to the perimeter, neutralizing their defense and rebounding. Przybilla and Oden are big, defensive-minded, and have more affinity to paint than Sherwin Williams. The Blazers need to find a way to bother Okur without chasing him with 7-footers. The Portland centers also have to pound inside and grab tons of boards on both ends. Equally important are the power forward matchups. The Jazz bring Boozer and Millsap. Both of them can score in the post and rebound. The Blazers bring Aldridge and Outlaw--more mobile, faster, more range, but not great post defenders and spotty rebounders. The Portland duo needs to hang close with their Utah counterparts.
3. Fast break when you can. You need points against this team.
4. The guards have got to take care of the ball.
5. We could own an advantage at the three-point line if Rudy and Travis are on.
The Blazers have been on such a nice run lately that it's hard to imagine this as anything but a win. Let's hope the Jazz don't disabuse us of that notion.
Check out the view from Salt Lake City at SLCDunk.
Enter the final game of the Jersey Contest regular season here. DON'T FORGET to check out the playoff list on Wednesday.