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Utah takes on New Orleans in a game with BIG playoff implications

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The biggest game all year for Utah isn’t against the Warriors or Rockets, but the New Orleans Pelicans.

NBA: Utah Jazz at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

You ready for some March Madness? You dying for a taste of NBA Playoff basketball in March? You’re just in luck. The Utah Jazz (36-30) take on the the New Orleans Pelicans (38-27) in a game that will yield big playoff implications for both teams. The Utah Jazz have beaten New Orleans two out of their three meetings this year. Utah has a chance to put add to New Orleans’ loss column while climbing another rung in the Western Conference seeding ladder today. Easier said than done.

New Orleans has been on a tear and it’s because of Anthony Davis playing like a basketball god who is taken time off from basketball’s Mt. Olympus. Post All Star break, Anthony Davis is averaging 33 points and 13 rebounds. He his a game-time decision, but all signs point to him playing tonight as he has said he “feels good.” It’s doubtful he’d miss a game with such big playoff implications.

With Utah’s easy schedule they could own the tie-breaker with New Orleans with a win today and continue their improbable return back into the playoff race. Right now, Utah is tied for 9th in the West after a Los Angeles Clippers’ win last night. A win would bring them tied for 8th and only 1.5 games out from the 4th seed in the Western Conference. That’s seems insane to even type.

The Jazz have been led by their own basketball god manning the center position, Rudy Gobert. The Stifle Tower has been a defensive monster since returning from injury helping the Utah Jazz have the best defense in the league since his return. Overall for the season, Utah is the 4th best defense in the NBA and trending to end the season #1. Post All Star break, Rudy Gobert is averaging 17 points, 12 rebounds, and owns a defensive rating of 91.


Game Info:

When: Sunday, March 11, 2018 2:00 p.m. MST

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

TV: AT&T Sports Net - Rocky Mountain

Radio: 1280 AM/97.5 FM The Zone

Injuries:

Utah Jazz:

Dante Exum - Day to Day (Shoulder)

Thabo Sefolosha - OUT (Knee)

New Orleans Pelicans:

Alex Ajinca - OUT (Knee)

DeMarcus Cousins - OUT (Achilles)

Anthony Davis - Game-time Decision (Ankle)

Solomon Hill - OUT (Hamstring)

Frank Jackson - Foot (OUT)


What To Watch For:

Immovable Object vs Unstoppable Force

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

These two centers have controlled the conversation when it comes to big men in the NBA this season. Anthony Davis is changing how we think of centers on offense while Rudy Gobert is changing how we think of centers on defense. They’re both generational talents that are evolving the center position. Tonight will be fascinating to see how the two match up. Both are on insane runs post All Star break putting up season highs in points and rebounds.

Gobert has the unenviable job of keeping Davis to below 30 points AND protecting the paint from everyone else while Davis is being tasked with handling the scoring load of his team against the only center in the league capable of shutting him down. This game is must watch for this matchup alone, but there’s another fascinating watch in the point guard battle.

Ricky Rubio vs Jrue Holiday

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

This matchup is another example of Immovable Object (Rubio) versus an unstoppable force (Holiday). Like Davis, Jrue has been heating up on the offensive end. Post All Star break Jrue has been one of the best point guards in the league averaging 23 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds. He’s been a terror to deal with. That’s where Ricky Rubio comes in. Rubio has a defensive rating of 96 when he’s out on the floor. Ricky Rubio is like a premier corner in the NFL. He’ll put guards on islands and force them to work.

On the other end, Rubio will have to make Holiday work on defense to tire him out. In the last few games Ricky looks to have found his offensive groove that he had during Utah’s 11 game winning streak. Ricky has been teasing us with almost triple doubles during the current winning streak and been averaging 12+ points a game during it. The Jazz need Rubio to shut Holiday down so the game’s biggest difference makers (Holiday and Davis) don’t play big roles and Donovan Mitchell and company can provide the real firepower.

Most Likely Jazz-Killer: Nikola Mirotic

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

With much of the Utah’s defensive game plan focusing in on Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic will be the X-Factor in today’s game for New Orleans. He has a chance to slip off the radar as Utah is keyed in on Davis and Holiday. Mirotic is the type of player that lights up Utah historically (see also every stretch four and Linas Kleiza).

Luckily, Utah finally has a player capable of guarding these tricky stretch fours without running Derrick Favors completely ragged: Jae Crowder. Utah’s best defensive lineup also has Jae Crowder in it as the four. Look for Utah to be able to play strength against strength with New Orleans’ top offensive lineups. This is a playoff game, so get ready for the playoff intensity.