Tonight the Utah Jazz (4-6 overall, 2-4 road) will tip off against the Toronto Raptors (7-2, 5-1 home). This will be the fifth and final game of this road trip, and as a result, be the fifth game in seven nights for our young squad. This is more of an issue deeper in the season, but for a bunch of 24 year olds (on average) in November . . . not as rough. The Jazz have been playing well during longer stretches of these games against the East.
- They had a great first quarter against the Detroit Pistons, but gave up a big lead in the second half and held on for a win.
- Utah let the game get away from them against the Indiana Pacers, and were dominated in the fourth quarter by a team that overlooked.
- The Jazz were in the drivers seat against the Atlanta Hawks, but a fourth quarter collapse snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
- Last night Utah still did not play a perfect game, but unlike the previous two matches, closed the game and came away with the win.
If the Jazz were to win tonight they would fly back to Utah with a 3-2 trip against some pretty weak Eastern Conference competition (Detroit, Indiana, and New York are the 12th, 13th, and 14th seeds in the East right now). But that is completely putting the cart before the horse here as the Jazz have to play the team tied for the tops in the conference -- the very dynamic Toronto Raptors.
This will be the second game all season against the West for Toronto, their first as a 100-88 win at home against the injury depleted Oklahoma City Thunder. They have pretty much handled the east, beating the Atlanta Hawks, and Washington Wizards, and everyone below those two teams. Their two losses have come at the hands of the Miami Heat (107-102) and two nights ago in Toronto to the Chicago Bulls (100-93).
Sixth year coach (in his fourth in T-Dot), Dwane Casey, has his squad running and gunning -- but also somehow still defending. They are scoring 105.4 ppg (4th in the NBA), and play at the 8th quickest pace (94.8 possessions per game), and have the 5th best offense (111.2 Off RTG). They also have the 6th best defense (102.0 Def RTG), and have a margin of victory of a very robust +8.6. Is that a product of beating up on bad teams? Or a product of being a good team? Or a little of both?
For the Raptors the key is Kyle Lowry. They play very fast, but they are not sloppy with the ball. They only turn it over 11.7 times a game (10.8 TOV%, which is 2nd in the NBA), and Kyle makes sure the right guys get the ball at the right time. They do a lot of pick and roll, but more in the isolation sets that we see from Chris Paul, and less of the 'flow sets' that we see from, say, the San Antonio Spurs. Their bigs are big (Jonas Valanciunas, Patrick Patterson, Amir Johnson, etc) and Lowry is so smart that he is able to get free, penetrate, and make the right decision. (This is also something Greivis Vasquez and Louis Williams benefit from as well) The other key is that Toronto has excellent athletes. They can run. And in the halfcourt, they can use their athleticism to get by you.
As a result, it's no surprise that they get to the line, a lot. They are going there 32.0 times a game, which is 2nd best in the NBA, and their FTA/FGA ratio is .306 (also 2nd best) -- so, yeah, they get to the line almost once every three shot attempts. That's insane. DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, and even bench guys like Tyler Hansbrough have been making their living at the line this season.
Fast pace. Good decisions. Great athletes. It's a smart play. And it's working.
But wait, there's more. Their inside game really compliments their high impact guards. Jonas Valanciunas is a throwback big. He doesn't mess around. Amir Johnson is a crazy mix of Rasheed Wallace and Derrick Coleman, in all the good ways and bad ways. And Patrick Patterson is a legit stretch big now, as he takes 3.3 threes a game, and is shooting 43.3% from downtown. Throw in Psycho T and the versatile James Johnson and you have a legit group of guys who help make the Raptors so fierce. (I didn't even bring up reliable Chuck Hayes and Hell Boy Greg Stiemsma either!)
Defensively the Raptors play like their namesake, and swarm around the ball, use their athleticism to get into passing lanes, and cause chaos. Their opponents cough off the ball 18.8 times a game (3rd best defense in NBA), and that translates to 17.5 TOV% (2nd best). Which then feeds into their quick pace, transition offense, and amazing athletes dunking like crazy at home.
Where can Toronto be hurt? Yes. They aren't beasts on their defensive glass, and they don't get offensive rebounds that well either. Furthermore, teams have been exploiting them to get good looks (teams shoot .517 eFG% against them, 24th 'best'). The other thing which I am going to mention again is that, well, they really haven't been tested by the West yet. And I honestly thing that our team, down a guy (Rodney Hood), and tired -- are still going to test the Raptors.
The big thing for me is that Enes Kanter was incapable of guarding anyone out there on the floor last night (not that he can't guard people, but he just can't match up favorably against Carmelo Anthony) and only played 12:21 minutes. So he's going to be ready to bang, fight, and do his best out there. There are plenty of Turkish fans in the GTA area (Greater Toronto Area), I wonder if they will show up tonight? But the Kanter / Jonas battle will be fun.
This will also be the return game for Steve Novak, who had 3 points last night (1/3 from deep), in 8:51 minutes of action.
I think Utah matches up well with Toronto, and obviously . . . . there's the
Marquee Match-up: Gordon Hayward vs. DeMar DeRozan
These two USA basketball wings got a chance to know one another and their respective games. DeRozan is much more athletic, but if the refs let the defense get a little physical then I think Hayward will be able to make life difficult for him. Last night Carmelo Anthony did manage to score 46 points, but he did so by completely monopolizing the offense. If it's a one vs. five thing, the Jazz can win. Sadly for Utah, DeRozan isn't dumb enough to make it a 1 vs 5 thing.
Gordon has been balling of late, and his rebounding and three point shooting are way up. Moreso, he is more demonstrative on the court, and takes matters into his own hands. It's been fun to watch this Hayward Apothoesis. I hope to see more of it tonight.
- Rodney Hood (UTA) -- he's already listed out for this game, and will miss his 5th straight with plantar fasciitis
- Greivis Vasquez (TOR) -- he is questionable with a right knee contusion, and will be a game time decision. He's a big guard who can pass, rebound, and be someone Dante Exum could really learn from.
- Landry Fields (TOR) -- he had the flu, did not play last game, and according to the Raptors is probable for tonight
The Jazz are playing inspired ball right now, but will be tired -- and emotionally a little drained from all the close finishes. The last game on a long road trip will be that much harder because it's against the best team they will play against on this trip. The Raptors did not play last night, and have been waiting in Canada for them. They are at home, but the Jazz are still 12-5 in their gym All time.
It should be a good game, a more physical game. One with a half court flair where both teams execute well.
I could be wrong though. I'm unfortunately not going to be able to watch this one (or do the recap) because my sister and her husband is in town.
Enes Kanter will make another three pointer tonight. And Derrick Favors will finish with 5 fouls. Also, Lou Williams will have a big game off the bench, and he will be the difference maker tonight.