The Utah Jazz will see a familiar face on the court tonight and for many fans he will be a sight for sore eyes. That man for sore eyes is mentioned whenever the Utah Jazz have had a loss this season. There train of though goes —> struggling bench bench —> offensive rebounding —>the starters were too tired —> “WE NEEDED DERRICK FAVORS TONIGHT.” Honestly, most of those observations are true. That train of thought could very well be activated again tonight should Utah lose to a New Orleans Pelicans team that is playing significantly better now than earlier in the season.
While Utah is hitting higher heights this season without Derrick Favors, trading Derrick Favors to have the cap space to sign Bojan Bogdanovic left un-repaired cracks in the Jazz’s armor. So far this season they have rotated through almost their entire bench unit to find a big man that is capable of holding down the fort defensively at center for only a portion of Favors minutes, they have traded for scoring that went missing along with Favors, and they sorely miss his offensive and defensive rebounding.
The Utah Jazz bring a five game winning streak into this game and are 9-1 in their last 10. They have been a buzzsaw in that stretch boasting the league’s second highest Net Rating at +8.9. Their offense has gone from also-ran to running-teams-out-of-the-gym. Utah owns the league’s 3rd best offensive rating at 116.5 and 7th best defensive rating at 105.7 over the past two weeks, according to Cleaning the Glass. That brings their overall offensive rating to 109.4 (17th) and defensive rating to 106.3 (6th). That renaissance is due to Donovan Mitchell’s prowess and improvement at point guard and the Jazz applying a band-aid on their bench with the release of Jeff Green, trade of Dante Exum, and acquisition of Jordan Clarkson.
Coincidentally, the Pelicans are showing signs of life for the first time in their season. They are 6-4 over their last 10 with wins over Portland, Houston, Indiana, and Denver. They gave the Los Angeles Lakers a scare but ultimately lost. They then beat the Kings on the second night of a back to back. The Pelicans may only have 12 wins on the season but 6 of those have come in the last 8 games. The Pelicans are improving and their ceiling is higher than most Western Conference teams due to their potential and young talent. This game is the furthest thing from an automatic W. New Orleans has awakened and looks anxious to grab that 8th seed from a crowded field of underwhelming teams like Portland, Minnesota, Sacramento, and Phoenix. Ironically, their biggest rivals for that last seed come from another young team with an unmeasurable ceiling: the feisty and young Memphis Grizzlies.
Even crazier FiveThirtyEight is projecting the Pelicans as the 7 seed. There is a scenario in which the Utah Jazz could face off against Favors’ Pelicans as the two seed. 2020 IS CRAZY PEOPLE AND IT’S ONLY DAY 6.
When: Monday January 6th, 2020 • 6:00 PM MT
Where: Smoothie King Center • New Orleans, Louisiana
TV: AT&T Sports Net Rocky Mountain
Radio: 97.5 FM | 1280 AM The Zone, 96.9 FM THE GAME
What to watch for
Battle of 2020’s Point Guards
Don’t look now, but Lonzo Ball is becoming every bit the player his now ex-business manager and father touted him to be. Since returning from injury Lonzo Ball is averaging 14.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.4 steals in his last 10 games. Over his last 5 games, he’s averaging 19.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6.2 assists while shooting 40% from three. He’s a damn problem right now. He’s also physically gifted to be a problem to smaller guards like Donovan Mitchell.
Unfortunately for Lonzo, Mitchell has gone superstar-nova since Mike Conley went down with his injury. Mitchell over his last 10 games is averaging 25.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.0 rebounds on a field goal percentage of 51.3%. It doesn’t matter the player that’s put in front of him, he’s going to get his. Even more troubling for whoever has the misfortune of guarding Donovan, he’s now the tip of the spear of this Jazz offense. With Conley out, teams are left guessing what Mitchell is going to do with the ball. Mitchell as the main playmaker of the offense is a superstar and makes Utah’s offense a buzzsaw. Helping with the transition to point guard is Mitchell’s length. His length allows him not to be a liability defensively when guarding opposing shooting guards, but now he has the strength and wingspan to pester point guards.
Mitchell and Ball could be two of the NBA’s Top 5 point guards in the next decade. This first matchup of the new decade between the two should be a blast to watch.
Derrick Favors - The Pelican
Derrick Favors had some injuries that kept him out early in the season, but since returning he has been the Favors we in Utah knew and loved. He’s averaging 10.8 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in his last 8 games. Even better when he has been on the court during this winning stretch, the Pelicans enjoy a cool 102.2 defensive rating. For reference their season average is 112.0. While we all miss Favors, it’s good to see him making a difference and getting to do so in a starting role.
This will be a tough matchup for Rudy Gobert. Derrick Favors knows his every move, quirk, his tendencies, and weaknesses. They faced off against each other more than any other player due to practices and position. Now we all get to see a preview of those two bruising defensive big men battling it out in a real game. I don’t think Favors sees this as a revenge game, but he most definitely will want to be able to talk some trash in an old Jazz player group chat if he gets his way tonight.
Jingles walks by Fav’s interview with Boler: “Those colors look terrible on you, by the way.” pic.twitter.com/WayWl9Hae2— Eric Walden (@tribjazz) January 6, 2020
Joe Ingles isn’t even holding back from his own team.
Joe Ingles, on the Jazz’s improvement: “That kind of connectivity that you see on-court is getting better all the way around.”— Eric Walden (@tribjazz) January 6, 2020
And on (and to) Jordan Clarkson: “Jordan’s been OK since he came here. You’ve been alright since we got you. Shoots way too much. Doesn’t pass.” pic.twitter.com/Sd5CSi5CNh
Jordan Clarkson, on what he’s learned of his teammates: “They play really hard, they play together. Guys don’t care who scores the ball, they move the ball really well.”— Eric Walden (@tribjazz) January 6, 2020
And in response to Jingles’ earlier dig: “Uh, Joe’s an asshole.” pic.twitter.com/NMTfzogl7E
Game Thread Ground Rules
Welcome to the SLC Dunk Game Thread.
Dunkers know how this thing works, but for you lurkers ready to make the jump to Dunker, we have a few guidelines. Remember to follow our community guidelines (no swearing, trolling, excessive use of Jerry Sloan’s name in vain, no personal attacks, no debates about Utah liquor laws, etc.). Remember to have fun. Anyone who dare blasphemes that Tim Duncan was a Power Forward (this means you, Pounding the Rock), Ben Simmons can hit threes, Gordon Hayward should not be booed, Donovan Mitchell is Monta Ellis 2.0, men should never cry, or John Stockton is not the best point guard of all-time will receive an automatic ban. Just kidding. But seriously.