Game 62: Dallas Mavericks (34-27, Road: 13-17) @ Utah Jazz (31-30, Home: 21-8)
Can the Jazz avoid a sweep?
This season the Jazz have not bee that competitive against the Mavs. The Jazz have lost to the Mavs this season all three times, and are at risk of being swept by the defending NBA World Champions. The closest game of the three matches so far back in January, in Utah: a 3 point loss in a hotly contested affair where there were technicals and players being thrown out. The other two games? Not so much. The Jazz lost in overtime 101-116, and later on in the season 96 - 102. That all adds up to the Jazz scoring 288 points, and the Mavs scoring 312. Those average out to the very neat and tidy numbers of Jazz: 96.0 and Mavs 104.0. And the point differential is -8.0. If you throw out the data from the first game (where Dallas was in a slump and Dirk Nowitzki playing injured) it shows a much clearer picture of abject domination. Dallas is a better team. But there are some new wrinkles to this match-up.
First of all, and most importantly, this game is back in Utah. The Jazz are significantly better at home than they are on the road. Secondly, Lamar Odom is no longer with the team. Odom has had a frustrating season, but BY FAR the best he's played (according to his splits) has been against the Jazz. He has so far averaged 13.0 ppg (#1 split), 63.6 fg% (#1), 71.4 3pt% (#1 when you factor in the 7 attempts), and capable RPG and APG numbers as well. And the Jazz do not have to worry about him facing up against Paul Millsap, and backing down Gordon Hayward anymore. The last bit of good news is that Rodrigue Beaubois did not play last night -- and I will update his status as I get it.
Of course, all the good news in the world doesn't stop the defending Champs, and gift us a win. This is still the Dallas Mavericks, and they still want to win this game.
After the jump -- what's going on with the Mavs and the Jazz!
What's going on with the Mavs?
The Mavs are struggling to finish this season. They have five more games to play: tonight @ Utah, vs. Houston, vs. Golden State, @ Chicago, and then @ Atlanta. How do the schedule makers have the Defending Champs finish the season on two road games? Nuts. The Mavs are in the thick of things and need every win. Especially after dropping a close game last night in overtime to the Lakers. Before last night's game the Mavs had won 11 of their last 17, which isn't super nova hot, but still pretty clear that they are in a win-now mode.
Their last win against a playoff team from the western conference was earlier this month when they beat the Memphis Grizzlies. They've also recently handled the Houston Rockets quite easily. Their record seems to be indicative of just how 'good' they are this year. And that record shows them to be quite a few spots higher than the Jazz this year.
They are a better team, they won the title last year after all.
They are also a much different team this year -- and it has started with a re-dedication to defense. The Jazz have trouble against teams that play it. And Dallas is the #7 best team in defensive rating, and #10 in opponents points per game. They are #10 in blocks this year, #4 in steals, #11 in most opponents turn overs, and #7th best in opponents FG% (eg. only 6 teams make the other team miss as much as Dallas does).
Dallas likes to shoot threes (#4 in attempts, #5 in makes), but they are only #21 in %. So that may play into the Jazz' hands. Also, Dallas is weak on the offensive glass. They are last place in opponents defensive rebounds, and #23 in getting offensive rebounds. They also shoot 44.3 fg% (#19). If the Jazz can coax the Mavs into a bad shot then the Mavs will most likely not crash the glass. Of course, the Mavs are #2 in most defensive rebounds this season. So I guess they play much the same way on the opposite side of the ball.
Aside from Dirk, no one else on the team scores MORE than 15.0 ppg. But there are 8 guys who are a threat to score at around 10 a game. They are a balanced team that seems to collect guys who are Jazz Killers (Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, VInce Carter, Delonte West, Rodrigue Beaubois, Lamar Odom). We know Odom's not playing tonight, hopefully Beaubois will also be out. It makes our lives easier, but it also simplifies who on the Mavs know need to step up.
And the Mavs players WILL step up.
What's going on with the Jazz?
The Jazz need to all step up. It can't just be "two starters and we'll rub some stick together and hopefully a fire starts from our bench". This isn't the Stockton and Malone years where two stars could get it done. Especially at this part of the season. Paul Millsap and Gordon Hayward have been getting it done, but I still think our most important players (that determine our success) are Devin Harris and Al Jefferson. Everyone else, at this point, are completely secondary.
We can have Millsap do a Malone impersonation out there -- and come out with the loss because Harris didn't control the pace of the game, or Big Al was bad on defense. We need those two guys to be our best guys. If for no other reason than the point that on offense, the ball is in those guys' hands the majority of the time. (number of possessions, and USG%, AST% and TOV% rates)
The Jazz can win this game. They know they need to win it. It's at home. And there are fewer Jazz killers available right now.
It's not even quitting time, but I'm buckling up already.