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Utah Jazz face the Cleveland Cavaliers who only have 7 active players

Can the Utah Jazz figure out how to beat a team with seven players?

NBA: Utah Jazz at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Time to get your jokes off because the Utah Jazz start their road schedule facing something that has somehow proven a difficult challenge to them this season: a team with only seven active players. The Cleveland Cavaliers will be without anyone with a pulse Dante Exum, Andre Drummond, Tristan Thompson, Darius Garland, and Alfonzo McKinnie. As if seven active players was not enough of a challenge tonight, Kevin Love will be sliding over to the Center role which could prove to be a challenge for Rudy Gobert.

In games that have featured a stretch 5 or undersized 5, the Utah Jazz are 10-14. Two of those wins are near misses against the Dallas Mavericks and the Houston Rockets. The problem against these teams is they employ a switch defense which the Jazz have somehow not been able to punish despite routinely having Rudy Gobert guarded by a point guard after the switch. On the other side of the coin, these types of teams are pulling Gobert out of the paint. Between the bad communication on the defensive end and Utah’s entire defense being designed around funneling to Gobert, the Utah Jazz are falling apart. It has been as if Utah doesn’t have a Plan B or a counterpunch to it.

The Utah Jazz are coming off a win that snapped a four game losing streak, but the win against the Wizards isn’t going to inspire any confidence for anyone hoping the defense would turn it around. The Utah Jazz game up 117 points at home to the Wizards. They may have scored 129 points but expecting your offense to score in the 91st percentile of the entire NBA every night so you can get a win is crazy talk. Especially for a team that has averaged far less than that throughout the season. Utah’s defense has to find itself on this trip and the Cavs will prove to be a great testing ground for how to solve a stretch five and switching defense.

For the Cavs, their season has been atrocious. They have 17 wins total, couldn’t find a trade partner for Kevin Love, and they are decimated by injuries. BUT, despite all that, they have two more wins than the Jazz since the All-Star break and two of those wins came against the Philadelphia 76ers and the Miami Heat. The Cavs have the look of a young team that—despite all their drama throughout the season—has started to look put together. A lot of that has to do with parting with John Beilein.

In the time that he has left the Cavs have the 19th best offense and 15th best defense. That doesn’t seem like much but when you compare it to Utah’s 14th best offense and 29th worst defense, it paints the picture that Utah cannot take the Cavs too lightly. Leading the Cavs since All-Star is Collin Sexton who is averaging 21.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists on 47% shooting from the field and 47% shooting from three. He also gets to the line almost 6 times a game. Kevin Love has been averaging 14 points and 8.6 rebounds a game but has stepped into the role of their main playmaker. The Jazz should expect a lot of that tonight.

Another player Utah has to be focused on is Kevin Porter. He lit up the Heat for 30 points. He’s a talented guard off the bench. Utah will need all of Donovan’s scoring tonight, but more than that they’ll need his defense. This Cavs team has the talent to score points in a hurry. They’re not going to play stout defense without Drummond, but they’re going to try to push the tempo and get points in a hurry. If Utah tries to crash the offensive boards instead of prioritizing getting back on defense, Cleveland will put up some easy points as Kevin Love is a Hall of Fame outlet passer.

Game Info

When: Monday, March 2, 2020 • 5:00 PM MT

Where: Quicken Loans Arena • Cleveland, OH

TV: AT&T Sports Net Rocky Mountain

Radio: 97.5 FM | 1280 AM The Zone

What to watch for

Oh defense, where art thou?

Utah’s defense has been missing for the better part of a month. Since All-Star break it ranks almost dead last. Utah can’t keep prioritizing their offense at the behest of their defense. Part of that is Rudy Gobert. He’s just not been Rudy Gobert like. That’s not to say Rudy Gobert’s defense has been atrocious, but the Jazz’s ability to be elite on defense comes not through the sum of its parts but the production of one part. The Jazz’s defense is 80% Rudy Gobert and 20% covering the perimeter while Rudy Gobert does what Rudy Gobert does best. There are few—if any—NBA players that could carry that mantle throughout the season. Utah pushed in favor of offense this season, but they very well could have pushed Gobert’s responsibility past his limits which may be contributing to his lack of effort in recent games.

LIKE I SAID, Rudy Gobert hasn’t been a bad defensive player, he just hasn’t been the Rudy Gobert we know and love. It’s not enough for Gobert to be above average. This team cooks when he is elite. When Gobert dials in to the defensive end again, it takes Utah to another sphere, but there’s another component. Players got to know their roles. Conley said recently he keeps following his muscle memory from Memphis for switches and coverages. That throws everybody off. Now add in Bogey who’s new. Mudiay who’s new. Clarkson who’s new. Gobert is covering for a lot of mistakes. He might have finally hit his limit and gone full “Know your role before I do mine.” Not great but understandable in any job context. But for Utah to be great and get back on track, he may have to clean the work fridge so to speak because his coworkers forgot it was their week to do it.

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