Tonight is the last game of February -- where the Utah Jazz have played 11 games already, and finished the game with the higher score after five of them. Tonight, game 12 of the month, gives the Jazz a chance to go 6-6. It's also the first game of a six game, Eastern Conference road trip that will take us all the way to March 9th. You can read more about that over here. Tonight is also the "home return" for Utah Jazz point guard Trey Burke. Burke is from Columbus, OH; but he did go watch Shawn Kemp play as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers back in the day. It's going to be an exciting game for the Jazz and for Burke.
Compounding the importance of this game is the fact that the Jazz and Cavaliers are separated by just 1.0 games when you try to figure out lotto ball ranks. If the Jazz win, we'll be behind the Cavs. Trey Burke would want nothing more than to repeat his performance when he played against the Detroit Pistons, where he finished with not just the win but a 20-11 double double in front of a Michigan crowd.
Standing in his way tonight will be All-Star guard Kyrie Irving. Irving ate Trey's lunch last time they played, a 113-102 Cavs victory IN Utah. Kyrie finished with a very impressive 25 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, 5 steals line. He also went 3/3 from downtown. This game should be payback, but I don't know if we'll be that lucky. Cleveland is 7-3 in their last 10 and they are just coming off a road win against the healthy Oklahoma City Thunder. They're not invincible though, as their 14-15 home record shows. For the record the Jazz are 51-43 against Cleveland all-time, but only 18-28 in their building. Just because they're likely to win as many as they lose at home doesn't mean that they're likely to lose to us. But still, they're not invincible.
They aren't invulnerable either, as Anderson Varejao, C.J. Miles, Dion Waiters, and Carrick Felix are all out. That's their best bigman (sorry TT, I don't think you're there yet), and all three of the shooting guards on their roster. Heck, they're going to be starting Jarrett Jack on the 6'8 Gordon Hayward. They are starting from a disadvantage here. I guess tonight Kyrie is going to have to do his LeBron James impersonation if they're going to get a win. I'm sure he's going to feel like him with so many guys out he may be the only talented guy on the floor for them at times.
The Jazz are catching a break with the Cavs injuries. They'll also catch one with how the Cavs play at one of the 10 slowest paces in the league, so it's not like we'll be out of our norm that much if they play 'their' game. Cleveland is #23 in offense by PPG, and #24 by Off RTG. So that's also a break. They are still a Mike Brown team, and know how to play defense though. So, uh, fun? Utah plays at one of the absolute slowest passes (slightly behind molasses), and our offense is poo-poo too. The difference here is that our defense is pretty bad as well.
Cleveland isn't some team that's going to roll over just because they're hurt though. They are capable of being amazing at the free throw line, and do a great job of playing defense without fouling. Very few teams get to the line with much frequency on the Cavs. They are also beasts on the glass, #4 in ORB% and #12 on DRB%. I guess part of that could be related to just how used to going for the ball they are, the Cavs are #30 in FG% at only 42.4%. Even WE are better than that!
Ultimately it's going to be about the players in this game. Kyrie Irving is an All-Star point guard. Luol Deng has fallen off from his Chicago Bulls averages from earlier this season, but he's still capable of doing things on offense and defense to make you upset. Tristan Thompson, Spencer Hawes, and Jarrett Jack are legit pros who can occasionally shine. But their bench, with all these injuries, are really going to hurt them. And like I said, it's about the players in this game. And in this game, we have more players available -- only John Lucas III is feeling ill, and is questionable.
Our guys are healthier. We have more bench depth. We don't have an all-star. But it's Trey Burke's "hometown" game. So sparks are going to fly. Even if the whistles wont. (Really, the Cavs do a great job of not fouling.)
I hope for a close game, and pray for a loss. Really. Winning this game isn't going to make us happy if we're stuck with the #11 pick -- and CLE is a few spots ahead.