The Utah Jazz are tearing it up right now. Our guys, currently the 15th and last team in the Western Conference, have won 5 of their last 10 games. The Jazz are also 10 of their last 20; and going even farther, 14 of their last 30. That .500 mark is a lot better than the .341 average for the season. During this most recent span the Jazz have defeated the Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons, Denver Nuggets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Milwaukee Bucks, Charlotte Bobcats (twice), Los Angeles Lakers, and Orlando Magic. You know what is nicer than that? Tonight the Jazz will face off against the Kings. The Kings are 1/2 a game ahead of us in the standings. So a Jazz win tonight means our 15th in the West reign will end, as Utah will leapfrog Sacramento.
Can you imagine? That's a nice feather in the cap of this hard working team that's finally healthy.
It's also counter productive to the goals Dennis Lindsey may secretly have for this season: ping pong balls.
And really, this upcoming draft class is good enough that several NBA teams have build their current NBA season around it. One of them may be the Sacramento Kings. Against the Jazz they are going into it with some "injuries." DeMarcus Cousins has a sprained ankle and didn't even travel with the team to Utah. The Kings plan on playing him against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday though -- they're just making sure he misses the Utah head-to-head game. Rudy Gay has an Achilles injury, but did travel with the team. As of right now he's a game time decision. Gay has missed the last few games and Derrick Williams has started at small forward in his place. Oh, and Derrick Williams got hurt last night, he got hit in the mouth and didn't return to the game. If all three don't play the Kings are all but conceding this game.
Utah and Sacramento look to be #14 and #15 in the West this season. They play three games this year. This is the tie breaker as the Jazz and Kings have split the series so far. On December 7th the Jazz lost at home to the Kings in Overtime 102-112. On December 11th the Jazz won on the road, 122-101. This rubber match tonight, where the Kings look to be keeping some of their better players out, will determine who wins the tie-breaker in the event that these two teams finish the season with matching records. If Sac is indeed throwing in the towel here the Jazz will win the tie-breaker, and Sac will have more ping pong balls at the end of the year if they end up with the same number of wins.
The Kings have lost three straight in a row due to these injuries, and have taken a nose dive recently. This season was supposed to be about winning for them and they made a number of trades to angle towards it. Back in July they traded away former Rookie of the Year guard Tyreke Evans in a three team trade, where all they got out of it was Greivis Vasquez and future picks. Then later that month they moved some picks for Luc Mbah a Moute. Then traded Luc for Derrick Williams in November. Then in December they traded a bunch of their old guard (Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons, and Greivis whom they just got in July) for Quincy Acy, Rudy Gay, and Aaron Gray. They haven't been shy about making moves, and for their efforts they look to fall to last place in the West with a loss tonight.
Is this where the tank exposes itself, like the Sith to the Jedi? Or is it just bad luck?
Whatever it is, it looks like a good time to show up to the Jazz game because you're probably going to see a lot of entertaining dunks. The Kings are in a 'down cycle' right now having recently gone 2-4 on a road swing (losses to the Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Houston Rockets), then went 0-2 at home (losses to Indiana Pacers and last night to the Denver Nuggets). I'm not going to get on them for getting beat up by Indy at home and in Indy. But the final scores have mostly been listless -- but credit to them for a 1 pt loss @ Memphis, and taking Indy to OT in the Arco or Sleep Train or whatever they are calling it now. After tonight's game the Kings will go off to play Memphis again, then the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs.
They don't look likely to pull out of this tail spin.
But there's good news, with certain players down it's given more opportunities to see some of their 'other' players. Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Thornton have been doing things. About 40% of all the plays the Kings run these last few games have been plays where the Pick and Roll ballhandler shoots the ball. With Thomas and Thornton this is a good thing because both guys are very capable to use even the worst picks to get into the paint, and Marcus is a deadly step back midrange shooter too. Worse for us is that we've had trouble defending both of them in the past. Their post play without Cousins is lacking, and their spot up shooting has been silly of late. They are good at defending spot ups recently though, they are small, and quick, and pesky.
Their rookie Ben's highlight of his season so far was taking a pee next to My_Lo back in Chicago. Other than that, his rookie season hasn't been too exciting. Their team is really not that strong without their two best players -- which seems to be when we have our best chance to win. And that's kind of a talent, the Jazz beat the teams that are injured. Someone's gotta do it. Previous Jazz teams used to LOSE those games, remember.
Anyway, back to Sacramento -- as a team they are Top 12 in offensive points per game, and #13 in offensive rating. Their defense is just as poor as ours is, they are at #28/#28. Their offense is not that efficient save for the fact that they GET TO THE LINE ALL DAY LONG. They get there, and they are pretty good at making those freebies. On defense it's about getting rebounds, but no team shoots better than when they shoot against the Kings. Teams kill them, especially from downtown -- Sacramento's opponents are shooting .382 from three this year.
There are snipers out there trying to shoot that crown off.
And that's what the Jazz will try to do tonight.
Utah is *doing thangs* (I don't know if I'm allowed to say that, I'm waiting for my jive talking, street smart anthropomorphic talking donkey companion to tell me). Well, relatively, we're doing thangs, er, things. (He just nodded his head that I can't use 'thangs') At the beginning of the season we looked like those Sochii Olympics photos that are circulating on the web. Right now the team is playing well on defense, and doing just enough on offense to get the job done.
|9||John Lucas III||1||2||32||15.8||4.4||1.1||1.2||0.6||2.0||0.3||0.0||5.8||16.9%||11.5%||3.9%|
It's no surprise that a huge factor in this is health, and I think tonight the Jazz healthy will carry the day -- unless of course -- Rudy Gay comes out and has one of his classic Rudy Gay-Days and scores 38 on us. It's not a surprise to see five guys on the Jazz with a USG% of 20.0 or above. Those five guys share the ball and each get a chance to 'finish' or 'do something' with it about 1/5th of the time. Oh, and those five guys are the F5. Funny how that works out?
The big matchup will be to see how Trey Burke fares against Isaiah Thomas. Thomas is smaller, quicker, faster, and more experienced. He gets a lot of picks, and this is precisely the pesky type of player the Jazz have struggled against. If Rudy Gay isn't playing then I think RJ can hold his own against a bigger guy coming off of mouth surgery. Our bench is better than their bench. We're at home, and they are on the second game of a back to back. And I expect Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks to FORCE Thornton to have to play defense tonight.Our bigs should dominate, but I expect Carl Landry to do Carl Landry things.
So it goes back to Trey and Thomas. Trey is going to have to bring his A-game on defense if this is going to be a blowout. And that can only happen with help from the rest of the team. This is going to be a good game to try to evaluate how good an Xs and Os coach Tyrone Corbin is. The defensive gameplan should be to stop Thomas. How well the plan works will go a long way towards helping guys like Dennis Lindsey figure Ty out.
I look for a good game, but Sacramento is always tricky. We can't take them for granted if two of their starters are out. But if there was ever a time to Kill the King, it will be tonight.
And if the Jazz play as well as they have been of late, then by the end of tonight we will no longer be the last place team in the Western Conference.