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NBA sends their best to Mexico City as Utah Jazz take on Orlando Magic

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Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz are in Mexico City for the NBA’s second regular season game in CDMX.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA ... they’re bringing dunkers. They’re bringing shooters. They’re ROY finalists. And some, we assume, are playoff teams.

Bienvenidos a Mexico!

The Utah Jazz are set to take on the Orlando Magic in an away game that could feel like a home away from home. The visiting city boasts a soccer stadium not far from the basketball stadium, the altitude is at 7,400ft similar to what a Utahn would experience on a quick hike outside the city, and it’s found in a desert. Mexico City may not be home for Utah, but it could quickly be a home like environment for the Jazz as they face Orlando in the NBA’s second Mexico City game.

The NBA is a global game and these regular season games play outside of the country could become more commonplace in the future—especially if the league gets their way with adding a G-League team in Mexico City. Marc Stein of the New York Times wrote that it may not be a matter of if but when Mexico City receives a team:

It is no mystery why league officials feel compelled to give Mexico — and Mexico City specifically — every chance to prove itself as suitable soil. The country’s proximity to the United States and its capital city’s population in excess of 20 million are impossible to ignore, given what such numbers could mean in terms of new revenue streams and expanding the game’s global fan base.

In the meantime, Mexico will get another sample of the NBA game tonight when one of the league’s better teams, the Utah Jazz, lace it up against the upstart Orlando Magic. Utah is entering the game winning 5 out of their last 8. Utah’s difficult schedule has been the talk of coach’s circles with even Erik Spoelstra mentioning its difficulty.

That’s not to say Utah hasn’t had some missed opportunities for some easy wins over the course of this season. Disappointed losses to the Kings at home, Heat on the road, and Pacers while being without Oladipo makes it easy to think “what if”.

Utah’s recent acquisition of Kyle Korver has injected some new life into Utah these past 7 games, but with Korver in the rotation, Utah is only 4-3, only 1 game above .500. Staying at .500 or barely above is the name of the survival game as Utah marches through the December schedule firing squad.

Meanwhile, Orlando is a surprise team out East. Orlando is only two games under .500, but hasn’t played as tough as a schedule as Utah (9th easiest). Orlando recently broke a three game losing streak which had a tough OT loss to the Nuggets then being on the wrong end of two disappointed blowouts by the hands of the Dallas Mavericks and Indiana Pacers. Luckily for Orlando, the Chicago Bulls were the hapless sacrificial lambs to break their unlucky streak.

Orlando has been surprising teams with Nikola Vucevic having a career—daresay, an All Star—year. He’s averaging 20.8 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 3.7 apg, on almost 41% shooting from three and 57% shooting overall. He’s been an absolute unit. The newly max contracted Aaron Gordon has been more efficient this season. Shooting a higher percentage and having a record three point shooting season, making 37.3% of all attempts. However, he’s getting the free throw line less.

This modern frontcourt could pose problems if Quin Snyder decides once again to pound a square block into a round hole with the Derrick Favors-Rudy Gobert pairing. Vucevic and Gordon will pull both Favors and Gobert away from the basket and negate both of their strengths and highlight both of their weaknesses on the perimeter. This game seems like the perfect time to once again play Jae Crowder with the starting lineup. That would allow Utah to then bring Favors out with the bench and Favors could feast on Mo Bamba’s rookie carcass.


Game Info

When: 3:00MT • Saturday, December 15th, 2018

Where: Arena Ciudad de Mexico · Mexico City, Mexico

TV: NBA TV / AT&T SportsNet

Radio: 1280 AM/97.5 FM

Injuries:

Utah Jazz:

Raul Neto — Hamstring — Day to Day

Orlando Magic:

Timofey Mozgov — Knee — Out Definitely


What to watch for

NBAE/Getty Images

La Multitud (The Crowd)

By all intents and purposes, this game is being played on a neutral court. But who will the crowd side with over the course of the game? Will they side with the team with the most highlights? With the most recognizable stars? The team with the Spaniard? The team with the Brazilian? Or will it just have the cricket like atmosphere of an All Star game?

While that may not seem like a big deal—it’s not, to be honest—Utah has been a really up and down team at home and on the road. Having some additional umph from the crowd would go a long way to get a little momentum. Also, I’m just interested to see how the crowd reacts with Utah. Is this Utah’s “Ma, we made it!” moment when casual Mexican fans recognize our favorite team’s stars or is this business as usual when it comes to Utah and household notoriety?

NBA: Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Better success than the last road trip?

Utah’s last road trip was against San Antonio then Oklahoma City in a quick back to back. They got shellacked by the Spurs then came out with little energy against the Thunder. It was a forgettable road trip that brought every schedule apologist out to their rooftop to scream “BUT THE SCHEDULE.” The schedule is a nightmare, but getting out to above .500 after December would prove that Utah is one of the league’s top teams and not reliant on playing cupcakes to survive.

Orlando is a team that Utah should beat. If we’re going to scream “BUT THE SCHEDULE” then you have to acknowledge the consequences of that statement: the Utah Jazz should beat the paper tigers that that same schedule creates.

The Orlando Magic are one of the league’s premier paper tigers. Utah which has been required to play a gauntlet has beat up on the Magic like Gemini would on the 36 year old small business owner and father of three that is just excited to be appearing on American Gladiator.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Which frontcourt pairing will Utah go with today?

Until Quin Snyder makes the inevitable switch full-time to the pairing of Jae Crowder and Rudy Gobert, we will continue to beg this question. The numbers tell us Crowder and Gobert are better by a wide margin. Against Orlando’s two big frontcourt that can hit the three ball at an above 37% clip at either position (PF and C), it seems like 1st quarter suicide to push Favors and Gobert against that tandem.

That’s just the defensive reason.

The offensive reasons allow Orlando’s athletic frontcourt to shrink the floor and prevent Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, and Rudy Gobert to do their work in the paint. This should be a no-brainer with Crowder and Gobert starting, but, fittingly, like the great Spanish work “The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha,” the Utah Jazz keep trying to fight the new modern era of basketball on the tired and exhausted Rocinante horse of the Favors-Gobert backcourt.

Will the Quixano Jazz fight another windmill today? We’ll soon find out.

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Also, it’s Los Jazz. Not El Jazz.