This preview is getting up a bit late, so this will be a one-off Preview/Game Thread hybrid. It’s close to Halloween, so here’s your Frankenstein Game Thread Preview.
BREAKING Anthony Davis is out tonight for the New Orleans Pelicans— David Locke (@Lockedonsports) October 27, 2018
The Utah Jazz roll into New Orleans after a win in Houston over the Rockets. The Utah Jazz have had two days off to relax and enjoy life in the Big Easy, the hope is that they’re ready for a 5:00PM MT tip off time. The Pelicans are not going to make life easy for Utah as they have started the season 4-0 and have been on fire. With Anthony Davis and Nikola Mirotic looking like the frontcourt of the NBA’s future both able to spread the floor and shoot beyond the arc, the Utah Jazz’s traditional frontcourt of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert will have their work cut out for them.
The aforementioned Anthony Davis may not be available tonight as he is questionable for tonight’s game with a right elbow sprain. The Pelicans were already thin with their bigs as Julius Randle has been battling plantar fasciitis. He is probable for tonight’s game. Being without Anthony Davis would be a huge blow to the New Orleans Pelicans. He has been averaging 27 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks a game. He looks like an MVP candidate if he can stay healthy throughout the season. The real surprise, though, is Nikola Mirotic.
Mirotic has had two 30+ point games and is feasting on the gravity that Anthony Davis provides. While a 1st round draft pick felt like a steep price to give up for Mirotic last year, it feels like a bargain. There might be some in the Utah Jazz front office who would give up Grayson Allen and filler in order to have Mirotic in a heartbeat.
On Utah’s side, Utah’s trade deadline acquisition of last year—Jae Crowder—is probably going to see a lot of minutes tonight as he’ll get the call to guard Mirotic extensively for the night. Favors might see most of his time tonight at the center backing up Gobert rather than at the four. Crowder—while not at Mirotic’s fire breathing status from beyond three—is having a good season as well. He’s looking more and more like the Boston Jae Crowder that we hoped to see, shooting 36% from three and providing good spacing for Utah.
The Utah Jazz will be relying upon a steady diet of Donovan Mitchell tonight. Donovan will probably have to deal with Jrue Holiday’s elite perimeter defense. Donovan has eaten the Pelicans alive before as his first 40+ point game came against the Pelicans last year. In order to get what he wants, he’ll need Ricky Rubio to step up big. Rubio—who has struggled mightily on offense to start the season—is only averaging 6 points, 6 assists, and a woeful 3 turnovers a game. If Utah can get the return of last year’s Ricky Rubio—from after the trade deadline—Donovan Mitchell will be able to roam free.
This game will be a big test for Utah’s defense as the New Orleans Pelicans boast the league’s best offense with a 120.1 offensive rating. That’s not a typo. They’re also playing at the league’s 5th fastest pace. Utah has to stick to their scheme and make sure not to get tied up in New Orleans track meet.
When: 5:00MT • Saturday October 27th, 2018
Where: Smoothie King · New Orleans, Louisiana
TV: AT&T Sportsnet RM, NBA League Pass
Radio: 1280 AM/97.5 FM The Zone
Raul Neto — Right Hamstring — OUT
New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis - Right elbow - Questionable
Darius Miller - Quadriceps - OUT
Julius Randle - Plantar fasciitis - Probable
What to watch for
Can Ricky Rubio snap out of this funk?
Ricky Rubio is known for being a slow starter when it comes to a season. He’s like a Mega Man blast, sometimes he has to grind through some levels the hard way before he’s able to level up. This year, however, is his slowest start yet. Shooting less than 22% from the field is going to put a lot of undue pressure on your team. In the Jazz’s game against Houston, there were times where Houston flat out ignored him on offense. Memphis did the same.
Luckily against Houston, Mitchell was able to get everything he wanted because of their switching defense and a fellow named Carmelo Anthony. That won’t be the story tonight against two All-Defensive Players in Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis. Utah will desperately need a good game from Rubio or we could see Quin go to his bench early to look for someone with a pulse to try to spell Rubio for the rest of the game.
Andy Larsen of the Salt Lake Tribune explained Rubio’s troubles this way:
The shooting is a problem in a couple ways. Right now, teams can leave Rubio open to bring help to Mitchell or Ingles without the risk of it hurting them. That’s bad. But quite frankly, the loss of Rubio as a secondary scorer is a big deal too: Rubio’s scoring turned bad Jazz offensive games into good ones frequently last season, culminating in a 26-point triple-double in last year’s playoffs.
And yet, Rubio does have a track record of starting his seasons slowly and then figuring it out during the course of the year. I’m not that worried about Rubio long-term yet. In the mean time, though, Snyder might need to be quick with the trigger to put Dante Exum or Grayson Allen in the game if his presence is hurting, not helping, his teammates.
The Utah Jazz are deep at guard and if Rubio doesn’t have it and is still figuring it out, well, the strength of the team is the team. The Jazz will go next man up and luckily they have a really talented Aussie guard in Exum who can get the rim relentlessly and defend just as well as Rubio.
What does Donovan Mitchell do as an encore?
Donovan Mitchell broke out of his mini slump and lit up the Rockets. Their porous endlessly switching defense was just what the doctor ordered (THANKS, MELO!). Now the difficulty has been dialed up to 11. Jrue Holiday is playing some of his best ball in years and Anthony Davis has evolved yet again into an MVP candidate. If Anthony Davis is healthy and ready to go tonight, life could prove to be difficult for Donovan if he tries to shoulder the entire offensive load and doesn’t get any help from Rubio.
Against Houston, Donovan went Neo from the matrix. That moment when Neo saw the matrix in zeros and ones? That was Mitchell but he saw his gravity on the court. He distributed the ball nicely and took advantage of the Rockets over-pursuit of him when he drove to the paint. Donovan was also back to finishing around the rim at his SPIDA-MAN levels, but he was taking better shots, too. Hopefully, Joe Ingles is punishing the Pelicans from deep and giving Donovan the daylight he needs to do damage in the paint.
Rudy Gobert vs Anthony Davis
This is going to be an intense battle. Stretch fives can be Rudy Gobert’s kryptonite and Anthony Davis is the ultimate NBA unicorn. If he’s a go tonight, Rudy Gobert will have his work cut out for him, especially if he’s having to worry about the Jazz’s perimeter defense getting bamboozled by the Pelicans’ other stretch big Nikola Mirotic. Add in the bruiser Julius Randle and this is a potent modern big man front court.
Rudy Gobert will need to be a threat on offense for the lob. He’ll also have to rim run like a bat out of hell. He needs to make Anthony Davis work on both ends. Most importantly the combination of Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Jae Crowder, and possibly Ekpe Udoh will need to rebound at a high level tonight. Davis is averaging almost 4 offensive rebounds a game. Against the league’s best offense, Utah can’t afford to give them second chances to score. Utah will also be looking to get easy looks without Anthony Davis guarding the paint, so those defensive rebounds are vital to getting out and running to get an easy look or favorable matchup on the defensive end for Utah.