Game 38: Utah Jazz (19-19, 5-13 on the road) @ Philadelphia 76ers (23-17 15-8 at home)
Is this even the same Utah Jazz team that left Utah? Before this road trip started the Jazz had barely won a home game (albeit to the Miami Heat), and were facing down five road games in a row. The problem then was that the Jazz didn't even have five road wins all season. Positivity weeks mandates that I keep talking about how great we're doing on the road, fighting back hard against the Dallas Mavericks on their court and scoring 40 in the final frame; beating a point guard powered Cleveland Cavaliers team in their gym; and then beating another guard heavy team, the Charlotte Bobcats, in their gym. The Jazz are turning into ROAD WARRIORS!
Well, maybe that talk is too premature. The Jazz face two rough games, @ Philly tonight, and then tomorrow night @ the Chicago Bulls. Those are two Eastern Conference playoff teams, while we spent the previous two games feeling good about dispatching two Eastern Conference lottery teams. It's not going to be so easy going forward.
What's going on with the Sixers?
The Jazz have now won four of their last five games and are healthy for the first time in a very long time. Head Coach Tyrone Corbin still is tending to play veteran heavy lineups; but it's the playoff push after all. Push comes to shove tonight against a very good defensive club. Bigman Al Jefferson has been making minced meat out of opposing players lately, the Sixers are a very hard group to cut.
They are the best defensive team in the league. Period. They are #1 in Opponents points per game. They are #1 in Defensive Rating. They are #1 in opponents field goal percentage. They rarely send the other team to the line (#5th least in the league at this). And they are #4 in Defensive Rebounds. And they play at a slower pace than the Jazz do. They grind your bones to make flour. And everyone gets in on the action.
Offensively they don't scare you, but they take care of the ball very well (#1 in least turn overs, and #1 in having the ball stolen from them least), never go to the line (last in the league in both makes and attempts), but still manage the second most total shot attempts in the league from the floor. There are six different guys who score at least 10.0 ppg for them: Louis Williams (15.7 ppg), Jrue Holiday (13.5 ppg), Thaddeus Young (13.2 ppg), Andre Iguodala (12.6 ppg), Spencer Hawes (10.5 ppg), and Elton Brand (10.4 ppg). In fact, Evan Turner -- their most volatile player and potentially their best when his their respective careers are all said and done -- is 8th in scoring for this team.
This is a team that plays team offense and team defense. They don't win pretty, but they win. Against everyone. Except us so far this season. We beat them in Game 3 of the season, with Al Jefferson out with injury. Tonight they may be without Spencer Hawes *and* Thaddeus Young. So, you know, expect even MORE shots for their guards.
After the Jump -- What's going on with the Jazz!
What's going on with the Jazz:
Jokes about being road warriors aside, this team is doing a number of nice things together on this trip. The biggest is that they are developing a trust with each other. And this trust is only encouraged by finishing games with wins. The Jazz still sputter at the end of games in crunch time, but the end result is what matters here.
Being on the road also develops a necessary need to lean on one another and develop that "us against the world" mentality. This was something the schedule did not really give the Jazz a chance to develop this sooner. And in February there were so many guys going in and out of the rotation (due to injuries) that there was really no chance to develop it then. This month is different .We are in the middle of a 5 game road trip now, and essentially have a 4 gamer later on this month as well: @ Sacramento (then vs. Denver at home), then @ Atlanta, @ New Jersey, and then @ Boston. But that's at the end of the month. First the Jazz need to get through the Sixers.
The Jazz are still an offense first team, and an inside first team. Bereft of Hawes, and hopefully predating on their ancient bigs, the Jazz should give the Sixers something to worry about on defense. That said, none of that works unless our non-bigs are making shots. At some stage we're going to have to rely on three pointers actually going in -- tonight may be just that stage. Outside of Raja Bell (who is shooting 42.3 3pt%, but only takes 5 shots a game), there really is no one that I'm currently happy with. Alec Burks (35.7 3pt%) has potential, but he only shoots 0.4 threes a game. And he's only really effective from two spots right now. (Corner Pimp vs. Floor Pimp)
Devin Harris has stepped it up of late, as a Nets player he has played against Philly quite a bit. He's actually "somewhat" torched his Atlantic division foes with a 32.7 3pt% over his career. And how can we forget that amazing buzzer beater he made years ago? I hope he has a good game.