The Utah Jazz will attempt to go for three wins on this East road trip by going for a win tonight against the disappointing Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets boss Michael Jordan opened up the owners vault and signed former Jazz ball-stopper Al Jefferson. Then in this past off-season tried to get Gordon Hayward, but instead used their money on Lance Stephenson and Marvin Williams. Despite showing the players the money the Hornets are 7-19, and sitting at 12th in the East. The Jazz, with one more win, are 14th in the West. That just shows you something.
Another thing to look at tonight has to be the fact that the Hornets are not a good home team. They are a worse road team (2-10), but only 5-9 at home. The Jazz are 4-10 on the road. Think about that. As bad as we are, we're almost as good as they are at home. We're traditionally a poor road team. Thus, this is a winnable game.
Adding to this is the fact that the Jazz have some momentum right now. Everyone is healthy. The team has put together 8 straight solid quarters of basketball. And the team is winning with players performing well. Things are looking up for sure. Charlotte won their last game, but have lost 4 of their last 5.
And so we get to the actual teams and how they play.
Steve Clifford has this team playing at the 24th fastest pace in the league, 92.2 possessions per game. They are okay defensively, but a far cry from what they were doing last season. Their DRTG is 21st in the NBA, at 107.9 points per 100 possessions. Their offense is worse, 26th in the NBA, at 101.3 ORTG. The Jazz have trouble stopping teams, and scoring on good defenses. In this case this is a below average defense and a bottom 5 offense. The Jazz aren't killers by any stretch, as they play at the 28th fastest pace (90.5 possessions per game); and have ORTG of 106.9 (14th), and DRTG of 1112.1 (28th).
Charlotte, for all their losses, do a bunch of things very well. On offense no team takes care of the ball better, they are #1 on own TOV% at a measly 10.5%. And they only give up 11.2 turn overs a game. They don't get to the line much (it is, after all, a Big Al team), and they aren't shooting well by eFG% standards -- but on defense they are the BEST team at getting the defensive rebounds (DRB% of 80.2%). Why is this interesting? It is because a) the Jazz don't pressure the ball that well, so this is their strength going against our weakness when they are on offense. And b), the Jazz crash the offensive glass like crazy (4th best in the NBA at 27.6% of their misses going back to the Jazz), and are going up against the best defensive rebounding team. For the Jazz on offense, this is their strength going up against the Hornets strength. Exciting, no?
What is the blueprint to winning this game? The Jazz do it by having a good first quarter, and moving on from there. In the Jazz losses the team only seems to perform well in the 3rd quarter, and in a diminished way, in the 4th. The second half looks better than the first; which makes sense as during the Jazz 9 game slide they were down by 15 ON AVERAGE at halftime. The change during the wins seems to be strong play in the first quarter.
That's what they did to the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic. And the slight shift propels the Jazz to good play all through the game. They aren't playing from behind after one, so the second quarter is more about adjustments instead of feeling down. The third quarter is 'our quarter', without the team being desperate. And because the team doesn't spend 24 straight minutes playing catch-up, they have enough energy to finish the game and finish it strong.
In their last 10 games the Hornets have given up 28, 28, 26, 21, 16, 26, 32, 34, 27, and 26 points in the first quarter. First, that's an average of 26.4 points. And second, you can tell which games the Hornets win and lose right from that. They are like the Jazz in that if they play behind all night long they are not at all likely to win the game.
Looking at personnel, clearly, the way we're going to beat this team is if we try to let Big Al Jefferson beat us all by himself. He's not exactly the picture on inefficiency that he used to be in Utah, but he has scored 500 points this year off of 456 shots. He gets to the line 3 times a game (all four major Jazz bigs, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Rudy Gobert, and Trevor Booker all go there more frequently), and is shooting under 50%. Also, again, every Jazz big listed is shooting above 50%.
Charlotte is more dangerous than their record, and they can easily win games with scoring distribution. They have plenty of outside shooters who can take and make open shots. If the Jazz doubles on Big Al we'll fall right into their trap. Play Big Al in single coverage, he's not going to score the 80 points his team will need from him in order to beat the Jazz.
outside of what the Jazz should try to get Charlotte to do, this game is going to be about Gordon Hayward showing Charlotte WHAT he can do. He was the guy their fans started drooling about after the rumors started last July that he would sign there. Michael Jordan wanted his all-around game, and it's fair to say that if Hayward WAS playing there he would be on the long list for an Eastern Conference All-Star spot.
He plays in the West though, so that's unlikely to happen.
But he is going to be playing against Charlotte's wings, who have not impressed me so far this season. It's going to be an interesting game. And beyond the Hornet's latest win against Philly, I haven't been impressed by them either.
Hope you all enjoy the game, this is me writing from the airport again. Woo. My life is exciting.