The Utah Jazz start their second East road trip of doom (post here) this season with six games in nine night before Christmas. It is as long as it sounds, and by the time it is over the team will be HAPPY to be back home for the holidays. But before they get there they will have to pass through some really good teams.
Utah will be without Derrick Favors in the middle, leaving 30.3 mpg up for grabs -- to be filled with the three man rotation of Enes Kanter, Rudy Gobert, and former Washington Wizard 1st round draft pick Trevor Booker. (Also expect to see some more Jeremy Evans too?) Booker knows the Wizards, and knows that they have ground their way through mistakes and missteps to lead their division right now. Washington is 2nd in the Conference as well, and a dominating 11-2 at home so far this season. Randy Whittman is making them play with pace and defense, something very few teams have ever done before. (A former Utah Jazz team did it, as a Top 5 Pace team while being Top 5 in DEF RTG in the same season. Thanks Mark Eaton!)
This season the Wizards are scoring 101.0 ppg (16th), and giving up only 97.2 (7th best); and their 13th best pace has them at 16th best in OFF RTG, and 6th best in DEF RTG. Teams with good defenses suffocate the Jazz into making mistakes and taking bad shots. A team that does that, and gets out in transition? Yikes. This could be a tough game to watch.
The only weakness for the Wizards is that they sent teams to the line over 25+ times a game, and their FT/FGA ratio isn't so hot -- but PART of that is the fact that teams don't get to shoot a lot against them, because the Wizards cause turn overs. You will get to the line compared to how many shots you take; but you're not taking a lot of shots.
A transition based gameplay that is grounded in strong defense helps their fliers get out there and fly. John Wall (17.8 ppg, 10.4 apg, 4.7 rpg, 2.1 spg), Bradley Beal (14.9 ppg, 3.2 apg, 2.6 rpg, 1.3 spg) get out in transition almost at will behind Marcin Gortat and Nene Hilario's defense. This is a well built club that is big on the inside, has fantastic one on one players, and playing with a unified team concept. The bigger story is how this team got here. They won 19 games, 26 games, 23 games, 20 games, 29 games, 44 games, and now are 16-6 so far this season.
They did not skip steps, and put the ball in the hands of their youngest players from the get go. John Wall played 2606 minutes as a rookie. The more experience you get the higher the potential return on your investment. The Wizards are just another club to prove that point.
Tonight (today? The game is in one hour?) they'll try to continue working on an injured Jazz that can't defend, and are horrible on the road. Utah is 21-26 in D.C. / Baltimore, and it doesn't look like to be better. Even the Wizards are healthier, with only Martell Webster being out. Boo hoo, I guess that means more playing time for Paul Pierce.
For Christmas the Jazz are going to get an education. Starting tonight. Maybe Trevor Booker can do something in this game to earn some more coal in his stocking?
Nene vs. Enes Kanter. Their names both have "ene" in it.
The Jazz get blown out
Rudy Gobert will continue to make us smile with his play on both sides of the court!