With the breaking news that AK is likely out for the series , the immediate reaction among fans appears to have tended towards the perception that Carmelo Anthony is going to plow through Utah like they're a cupcake display with the unfortunate fate of being spotted by one of the Baldwin brothers. While this knee-jerk reaction is understandable, it's misguided. The reality is that Carmelo was alwaysgoing to get his points against us. In games against Utah this season he averaged 33.5 ppg and 8.0 rpg on nearly 55% shooting. Having Kirilenko in those match-ups hasn't done much to slow down Carmelo so far this season, and there wasn't a lot of reason to believe that having an AK working his way back into the line-up after injury was going to make a whole lot of difference against Carmelo either way.
Instead of Carmelo, the real players the Jazz need to be worried about over the next couple of weeks are players that had strongly atypical performances against the Jazz earlier this season when compared to their full seasons: Ty Lawson and J.R. Smith.
Ty Lawson should scare every Jazz fan going into this series. While he was certainly something of a rookie surprise during the season while capably backing up Chauncey Billups, he absolutely tortured Utah while averaging 19.0 ppg and 5.0 apg while shooting over 57% from the field. All of those are well above his season-long averages. Lawson seems to possess a skill set uniquely designed to disrupt the Jazz defensive scheme by being just a little too fast for Deron to prevent his penetration at the point of attack and having enough ball-handling ability and a nose for the rim to beat rotations or switches. Luckily for us, this may not be a major issue during the series as team's benches tend to get shorter during the playoffs and the inclination will be for the Nuggets to play Billups close to 40 minutes a game. However, don't be surprised if we're in for some tortuous second quarter stretches as Lawson is darting around the likes of Ronnie Price and Kosta Koufos. Koof would, of course, attempt to play defense in this stance.
On the other hand, Utah seems to handle a particularly problematic player for the Nuggets extremely well. J.R. Smith has the ability to make the Nuggets next to unstoppable on offense or shoot them out of the game. No one, except for maybe his court-appointed supervisor and his contacts with the Bloods street gang (don't worry J.R., Carmelo won't snitch), seems to know which of these faces he's bringing on any particular night. Against the Jazz, the bad Smith tends to show up and it's only because of atypical factors that we haven't seemed to notice. While Smith has been scoring 16.0 ppg against Utah this season he's been doing it purely through volume while shooting at percentages (34.69% FG and 25% on threes) that would make even C.J. Miles blush. Even more helpfully, Smith has been known to be somewhat uncontrollable at times and the absence of George Karl seems to have made him abandon all discipline on the court. In recent Nuggets games he's looked a little wild and his shooting percentages over the last month reflect that. Hopefully the trends will continue during the course of the series.
Irrelevant rant about Justin Bieber:Everyone with ears and a passing awareness of the world has been exposed to the Disney-esque teen pop sensation at this point. Essentially he's this generation of tweens' answer to Donny Osmond, Leif Garrett, and Aaron Carter (that should be enough references that every reader gets at least one). While the general reaction from those 15 and up is that Bieber's hit song "Baby" (click for video) is horrible I have a different take entirely: it is possibly the site of one of the most impressive passive-aggressive performances by an artist ever. After several choruses in which Bieber croons such deep and thoughtful lyrics as "Baby Baby Baby Oooooooohhh .... Baby Baby Bay Ooooooooohhh," Ludacris, a guy with genuine musical talent, comes in.
As a general rule, when a relative (and I do mean relative) luminary like Ludacris makes an appearance with a manufactured pop icon I assume that they've adopted Rasheed Wallace's philosophy about checks being cut. Ludacris takes it one step farther, however, by unequivocally stating in his very first lyrics (at 2:13) that this song's target demographic is 13-year-olds. After laying that groundwork with an insulting truth-bomb about Bieber's appeal to those that have stopped thinking about Pokemon regularly, Ludacris proceeds to lay out some lyrics at speeds that only serve the purpose of demonstrating his technical superiority over Bieber. This one-two punch of insult and then face-crush makes "Baby" the most fascinating song of the Spring for me. I have no idea what kind of award Ludacris could get for this, but he deserves something.
Derek Fisher continues to murder the Jazz from Los Angeles: Although there are many key events that could have changed that would have secured the #3 seed for the Jazz and a date with hobbled Portland instead of our current match-up against Denver, in my mind we were foreclosed from winning the division as soon as Denver pulled out a win against the Lakers. For weeks I had been thinking about that particular date as an extremely probable loss for the Nuggets. Even with Kobe Bryant failing to suit up, the Lakers were up by seven with six minutes to play.
Then Derek Fisher went to work.
In the last two minutes, Fisher orchestrated a 24-second shot clock violation on a crucial possession, threw a bad pass for a turnover (incorrectly attributed to Shannon Brown in the play-by-play), failed to get Pau Gasol involved (Pau didn't take a shot in the last 6 minutes) and tried to relive the glory of his 0.4 days by holding the ball and insisting he take the potential game tying shot even though he had a full twelve seconds to try and find a better shot for his team. Of course Carmelo Anthony blocked the shot and the ball never got within 15 feet of the rim again.
It wasn't enough that Fisher shot 38.2% from the field while in Utah, nominally while performing as our starting "shooting guard." It wasn't enough that he had substantially better numbers both in his season before playing in Utah and in his season after leaving the Jazz. It wasn't enough that he probably used the illness of his daughter as a cynical way to get out of town and give up his contract. Now he has to help out our division rivals too.
At least I can still laugh when I see the unintended meaning in headlines like this one on ESPN Los Angeles.
Things my mom says on Facebook (new recurring feature): "For some reason unbeknownst to me, The Heritage Theater in Perry, UT would always give a small speaking roll to a pudgy goof who botched his lines in every play. It was some sort of inside joke, when he messed up his line, the audience cheered. That pudgy goof is Rob Bishop, congressman from Utah's first district."
Stay proud Northern Utah.
Game Attendence Alert: Over the next two weeks, there's going to be a lot of what we'll politely describe as "nut-flexing" over whether the Jazz or the Nuggets have the better fan base. In my mind the issue has been definitely settled. All I needed to know is that I was able to purchase front row seats behind the Jazz bench to the Denver dates for under $200/ticket for both Games 1 and 2. Those tickets aren't even available in Salt Lake City, much less for under face value. Denver fans, you've let your team down, and you're going to have to deal with an obnoxious fan in a Kyrylo Fesenko jersey for your home dates as a result.
The Madame (my long-time girlfriend and sometime domestic partner for those who were previously unaware) believes we need signs for these games. Below are a few options we're considering divided by levels of offensiveness. Let us know what you think, or suggest some of your own in the comments.
In every NBA game there are bound to be some calls by the referees that the home team doesn't agree with. This is an awkward moment for fans of the opposing team. Standing up and cheering while an entire arena is booing feels like an invitation to violence. For these situations, in order to express tentative approval of the referees botching the call we propose a displaying a sign merely stating "This is a tricky gray area."
Childishly Rude, but inoffensive:
"Birdman? More like Turd-man"
"Chris Andersen uses Performance Diminishing Drugs"
"I've got more balls than Nene." (Held, of course, by the Madame).
"Lydia Moore [Kenyon Martin's mother]: Mark Cuban was right"
[Note by Basketball John, 04/17/10 2:21 PM MDT, Spoke with SirKickyAss and removed this offensive part . Apologies.]
Enjoy the games. Hopefully Fes plays and I won't be ejected until at least the third quarter.