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Utah Jazz at San Antonio Spurs Game Preview: The Master and the Student

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Utah Jazz (14-26) @ San Antonio Spurs (25-16)
AT&T Center • San Antonio, TX
5:00 p.m. (MT) • TV: ROOT Sports • Radio: 1280 AM / 97.5 FM

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Tonight the Utah Jazz will play a rare Sunday game (they play only four this entire season), against the reigning NBA Champs, the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are the team that followed our model, and made it successful. And in turn, we are trying to return the favor in our attempt to rebuild (not re-load), and return to greatness.

There are a number of connections between these two franchises, above and beyond things like Jerry Sloan going to Spurs training camp a few years ago upon the invitation of Gregg Popovich. Current Jazz head coach, Quin Snyder, was the head coach for the Spurs D-League team (the Austin Toros) for three seasons. They won the NBA-DL championship pinata back in 2012. Furthermore, Snyder was an assistant coach for former Spurs head coach Larry Brown back in the 90s with the Los Angeles Clippers. Another assistant on that very team? R.C. Buford, who is the grand architect of the Spurs success over the past decade. Oh, and Spurs assistant coach Ettore Messina was Snyder's boss back at CSKA Moscow, and both of them also were assistant coaches with the Los Angeles Lakers back in 2011-2012. And let's not forget that our Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey spent five seasons with the Spurs as the team's VP and then Assistant GM.

If the Spurs made their model after us, that's cool. But there is no doubt that from the front office down to the scouts, our Jazz team lives with Spurs DNA. The next step, of course, is moving from off the court to on the court, and develop, establish, and thrive with Spurs-like players.

That means more than having South American, Australian, or French players on your team. And it means more than just having individually talented and efficient players. You need a game plan, and a unified team. (No "I'm playing for 29 other franchises right now, bruh. Pay me $20 for this autograph party," dudes.)

If you are not paying attention you might have missed that the Spurs are only 7th in the Western Conference right now. They've had a bunch of injuries during the season, but are still nearly automatic at home (14-6), and are 7-3 in their last 10 games. Furthermore, they are still the bloody Spurs, guys. They win games comfortably, have the 12the best offense, by ORTG, 6th best defense by DRTG, and teams suffocate under their schemes. San Antone doesn't play slow (17th), but they still hold teams down to 98.3 ppg (10th best).

Their defense will be part of my focus here because the Jazz have a long way to go with their defense. Our offense looks like the Spurs (without the same results), but the D, whoh boy. Anyway, the Spurs get all of their rebounds. They average 43.6 rpg, and pull down 33.9 defensive rebounds a game (4th best in the NBA). When you look at their actual DRB% they are at 77.7%, which is good enough for ONLY 3th best in the league. If your plan of attack somehow relies upon second chance points and put backs / tip ins (specifically how Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, and Enes Kanter get a healthy portion of their buckets) then you need another plan of attack when going up against the Spurs. Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, and even Aron Baynes all average 3 to 8 defensive rebounds a game. They all put in the work to make sure that the other team is no longer on offense. (*Cough* Delta D *cough*)

San Antonio beats you by playing good defense, making you take bad shots, and then getting the rebound. They don't get a lot of steals, they do block a bunch of shots -- but their main counter attack doesn't come from in-bounding the ball after your team scores. They counter attack because they get rebounds. (Decades ago Pat Riley said "No Rebounds, No Rings." And it still holds true today.) Also the aura of the Spurs mean that they rarely are called for fouls too. But that comes from winning, and for being 'known' for their defense. Utah still has the stink of being a "they always foul" team, so we do not get the same luxury.

San Antonio also has a pin point offense with a great variety of youth and experience, stardom and role players, and inside and outside guys. We know this. We see it every year in the playoffs. But there's one thing we have not seen this 2014-2015 season so far. And that thing we haven't seen this year is the Utah Jazz losing to San Antonio.

They play each other three times this season, and the first game had the Jazz winning 100-96. (You can read the recap of that game from December 9th over here!) It would be foolish to expect the Jazz to sweet the Spurs (it's been a while since that happened), and it would be foolish to expect the Jazz to enjoy playing against the Spurs without two of their starters (no PG Tony Parker or PF Tiago Splitter in that game). But it would be equally foolish to feel like the Jazz youth aren't going to be up for this game. Derrick Favors had 21 and 8, Gordon Hayward had 20 / 7 / 4, Enes Kanter had 12 / 15, Alec Burks had 14 / 4 / 3, and so on.

There's no Alec Burks tonight (or Marco Belinelli), so other players will have to step up. Facing Tony Parker means we're going to all need to play better help defense. I don't know if Trey Burke or Dante Exum will be the alpha of the Jazz defense, but Rudy Gobert is without a doubt the Omega.

Utah is 65 up and 96 down against San Antone, and a pathetic 20-66 while playing on the road. This is a surprising Jazz team that is playing with more confidence. They laid an egg against the Lakers and still won. But we all know that they can win big games on the road (ask the Chicago Bulls).

Marquee Match-up: Derrick Favors and Tim Duncan. It is time.

Fearful Prediction: Tony Parker makes us look stupid, consistently.

Fearless Prediction: Rudy Gobert will do enough to gain Boris Diaw 's respect.

Tonight will be a fun game, and a great measuring stick. The Jazz want to be like the Spurs. Let's see how far off they are right now when these two teams face off tonight.