Happy New Year’s Day!
Break out the Pedialyte and the extra black coffee. While the rest of the world is recovering from their shenanigans from New Year’s Eve the night before, the Utah Jazz will take on the Toronto Raptors.
Tonight’s game could prove to be one of those games that feels like it was scheduled to be a loss. The game is at an early tip-off time for Utah, 5:30PM MT. It’s the day after a cross country flight from Utah, and after a significant party holiday. How Utah performs today could display the restraint their players showed the night before and their discipline to be ready for yet another brutal scheduling quirk thanks to the Jazz’s already nightmarish 2018-2019 schedule.
The last time these two teams met, Utah was on the wrong end of an absolute dismantling. It seemed to be revenge for the way Utah did Toronto dirty the year before in Toronto last January. That improbable win in Toronto was part of a three game stretch for Utah which reinforced the Jazz’s resilient identity for the second half of last season.
When Utah plays the Raptors, they will have to match up against Kawhi Leonard. That bad loss at home to the Raptors earlier in the season was done without Kawhi.
The odds don’t look the greatest, but if there is a silver lining for Jazz fans, Utah was in a similar underdog role last year when they had that improbable win. That was the game Rubio gained his swag again.
Toronto won’t be at full strength, however. Kyle Lowry who had a big game against Utah in November will be out as he continues to battle back and quad injuries. Ricky Rubio and Jae Crowder, both of whom sat out of Saturday’s contest against the New York Knicks due to injuries, are probable for tonight’s game. Who knows how many minutes they’ll be available for, but having them back in the lineup with help tremendously.
The other silver lining is Utah’s defense is back to its elite status. For the month of December, Utah had the 2nd best defensive rating behind the Indiana Pacers. While the offense still has some work to do. Utah’s offense for the month of December was 16th in the league which explains their yo-yo back and forth between dramatic wins and propensity for getting blown out.
Utah hopes that the rhythm on the offensive end against New York can be the energy they bring into the New Year. Dante Exum, filling in for Ricky Rubio, continued his improved play by dishing out 13 assists to go with his 13 points. Rudy Gobert was an absolute machine as well. Exum’s ability to throw accurate lobs unlocked his powers of vertical domination.
With Lowry out, Ricky Rubio should be able to dominate his matchup against Fred VanVleet while Exum gets to take on the University of Utah product Delon Wright. Utah should have the edge the way those two have been playing throughout December. If Rubio doesn’t have it in his first game back from injury, Quin has the luxury of playing Exum extended minutes knowing that Exum continues to show the ability to make the right reads and lead from the point guard position.
As for Donovan Mitchell, he has been struggling a bit with efficiency this season. He has a New Year’s Resolution and Toronto could be the unfortunate ground zero for his turnaround if Spida’s latest tweet is any indication.
New year, new me.— Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) January 1, 2019
Donovan Mitchell has been averaging almost the same numbers as last year with decreased efficiency. Part of that is due to him taking less drives to the rim due the personnel he’s surrounded by. That could change as Utah begins to tighten their lineups the further along they get into the season. Dante’s improvement with Korver and Ingles on the floor also shows how much an elite slasher like Mitchell could benefit from more time with those two. Hopefully, we see that tonight against Toronto.
While Toronto was dominant to start the season, they’re only 6-4 over their last 10 games and 2-2 over their last four with losses to Orlando and Philadelphia. With Kyle Lowry out, Utah may be able to sneak a victory out against a Raptors team that is limping.
When: Tuesday, January 1st, 2019 • 5:30 PM MT
Where: Scotiabank Arena • Toronto, Ontario, Canada
TV: AT&T Sports Net-Rocky Mountain, NBA TV
Radio: 1280 AM The Zone | NBA League Pass Radio
Ricky Rubio – Back / Knee – Probable
Grayson Allen – Ankle – OUT
Jae Crowder – Left Thumb – Probable
Kyle Lowry — Lower Back — OUT
Jonas Valanciunas — Finger — OUT
What to watch for
Kawhi Leonard putting the Toronto Raptors on his back
Kawhi Leonard has been averaging 28.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.1 steals a game over the last 10 games. He’s been amazing. But the next guy up who is not named Kyle Lowry is Serge Ibaka who has cooled off from his insane out of the gates start. Ibaka has only been averaging 15.4 points and 7.4 rebounds a game. Most importantly, he’s not hitting close to 40% from three anymore. He’s only shooting 26% from that range.
That puts tonight’s game squarely on Kawhi’s shoulders. Utah’s whole game plan is going to mirror what Utah’s opponent’s normally do. They’re going to throw the kitchen sink at Kawhi and dare anyone else to score above 20. Expect Utah to try to get the ball out of Kawhi’s hands through a series of traps off pick and rolls off that high hedge, and keeping Kawhi out of lane.
Don’t let Fred VanVleet get in rhythm
VanVleet is a great bench player and was a sixth man of the year candidate last year. Utah can’t afford to let him play above his ability by allowing him to get into rhythm. While the Jazz would rather let anyone take the shot than Kawhi, VanVleet has the potential to fill it up in a hurry and could derail Utah’s hopes of an upset in Canada, if he gets confidence. That responsibility will fall on Rubio, Exum, and Mitchell as they will most likely be the ones getting the assignment on him tonight.
The end of Donovan Mitchell’s sophomore slump?
Donovan Mitchell is intent on making this new year special if his tweet is any indication. Donovan over his last four games has looked like he may be learning how to handle the additional pressure from defenses (that, and it appears Quin is giving his sophomore phenom additional spacing with Ingles and Korver). Over the past 4 games Donovan Mitchell is averaging 19.3 points on 44% shooting and 32% from three. That’s not brilliant efficiency, but it’s better than Donovan’s numbers over the past 10 games that’s in the 30’s in FG%.
Ricky Rubio burst out of his slump last year in Toronto, can Donovan follow in his mentor’s footsteps this year?