The Utah Jazz may not be putting the fear of John Stockton and Karl Malone into anyone with their 19-33 record this season, which is identical to what they had after 52 games last season. But the record doesn't tell the whole story. Last year the team trudged to that mark upon the backs of free agent veterans beyond their physical peak, who would leave the team. This year it's the youth being used and developed, and producing the same number of wins. But even then that fails to express how special this group is. This team is more competitive against the teams they should fold against, and hang in there in games they should be run out of the building in. Even in the heyday of Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, and Andrei Kirilenko there would be stinkers -- and there were just teams the team could not compete against, especially on the road.
One thing we see from this year's team is that no matter who they play, and no matter where they play, this team is ready to fight. Even with asymmetrical injuries to the shooting guard spot this team competes. Alec Burks is still out, as is Rodney Hood. Joe Ingles is doubtful for tonight. But Dallas, in their last game before the All-Star break, isn't without injury either. The Dallas Mavericks are a contender, and probably do not want a silly injury to derail their season. The Mavs PR suggest that starting center Tyson Chandler is out for tonight, as is starting point guard Rajon Rondo. Jazz-kill Monta Ellis is listed as questionable. His status was upgraded from doubtful . . . so . . . well . . . that sucks.
Utah won in New Orleans against a team missing three of their Top 8 players in Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and Ryan Anderson -- but it wasn't easy (full recap here). If Utah plays the Mavs without their starting back-court and center, well, you just never know what can happen. With the injuries Monty Williams was forced to play and rely more upon Tyreke Evans (who missed a triple double) and Eric Gordon. I do know that Dirk Nowitzki shouldn't be playing 40 minutes tonight, and I doubt that Rick Carlisle would want that; after all Dirk is only averaging 30.7 mpg this year.
Utah has trouble with Dirk historically, and right now even if the Jazz like to go big, none of our bigs can check him. Tonight could be a great game for Dirk against our team. Hopefully the Mavs are in "whatevs" mode and don't care about this win. I don't see why they wouldn't be, the Mavs are aiming for homecourt in the first round, and right now sit at 5th in the West. They are 5-5 in their last 10, and are vet enough not to look beyond the Jazz to the All-star break just yet.
Chandler Parsons is a tough cover, but he can't handle Gordon Hayward. Devin Harris and Richard Jefferson wouldn't mind taking a crack at our under-dipped group of guys like Elijah Millsap, Ian Clark, and sheesh, who is on our bench again? The Harris / J.J. Barea match-up against Dante Exum and Trey Burke will be fun to watch. But really, if the Jazz can't defend Dirk then it's going to be a big problem where no other match-up matters.
In their last game Dallas got spanked by the Clippers. I expect them to push the Jazz, and then expect our guys to roll over. Best case is that we stay with them all game long and make them earn it. The Jazz have a chance to win 20 tonight, which WOULD be a big improvement from last season -- the team didn't get that many wins until 56 games last season.
Can Gordon Hayward go for 30 in three straight games? I think so. Will be that what the team needs in order to get the W? I don't know.
Fearful Prediction: Dallas will make our defense look remedial at times
Fearless Prediction: Gordon Hayward continues to make the NBA notice that he's the real deal.