2020 was quite the year, indeed! A year unlike any of us have ever experienced. There was no exception for Greg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. If times were normal, I would open up this preview with a blurb on how the Spurs haven’t missed the playoffs since everyone’s (least) favorite uncle, Bill Clinton was president.
Well, like I said, 2020 was different, unprecedented. After 22 consecutive playoff appearances from 1998-2019, the Spurs missed the playoffs in 2020 (barely). Longtime Utah Jazz fans can relate to perennial playoff contention for 20 consecutive seasons from 1984-2003. Point God, John Stockton was drafted in ‘84 and the Mailman was drafted a year later in ‘85. Basically, they were contenders nearly every year the Jazz legends suited up. Let’s take a look where it started.
While the Spurs and the Jazz are definitely similar in that they are small market teams who almost always remain competitive, there is one key difference. While the Jazz made the playoffs for 20 consecutive years, they only reached the finals twice and, and never brought home a championship. The Spurts, on the other hand, collected 5 of them (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014).
While Pop is still going strong, Sloan has since transitioned on. I appreciate this quote from Pop on Sloan’s death: “It’s a sad day for all of us who knew Jerry Sloan. Not only on the basketball court but, more importantly, as a human being. He was genuine and true. And that is rare. He was a mentor for me from afar until I got to know him. A man who suffered no fools, he possessed a humor, often disguised, and had a heart as big as the game.” Rest in love Jerry, and respect to Pops as well.
Fast forward to the present, and the Jazz are embarrassing the Spurs in playoff appearance streaks, 4-0. While the Spurs were home isolating, the Jazz were duking it out in the pandemic playoffs. And, while the Jazz ultimately ended up blowing a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets in the 1st round, at least we got to see Donovan Mitchell put on his Spiderman suit and put in work to the tune of 56 points.
Despite this, San Antonio beat Utah 3 out 4 times last year, with the only Jazz win coming on the last game of the season after the Spurs had already been eliminated. So, it’s obvious that, despite the Jazz being the more talented team, the Spurs will never be a pushover with Popovich at the helm. After starting 2-0, the Spurs are looking to snap a 3-game losing streak. As for the Jazz, their season has been mired by inconsistency while going 3-2 over the first 5 games.
When: Sunday, January 3rd • 5:00 PM MT
Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
TV: FSSW-SA, AT&T SportsNet - Rocky Mountain
Radio: 97.5 FM | 1280 AM The Zone
What to watch for
Can the Jazz contain the Spurs’ mid-range game?
The Jazz lost to the Spurs in all three meaningful contest last season. The Spurs absolutely killed the Jazz with their midrange game. Demar DeRozan went off for 38. The Jazz also had trouble containing Murray and White. The Spurs never made more than ten 3-pointers in the three wins against the Jazz.
In order to contain the Spurs’ midrange, the guards and wings will need to stay in front of their man. The Jazz sometimes rely too much on 2 x defensive player of the year, Rudy Gobert, to clean up for mistakes on the perimeter. In my opinion, Donovan Mitchell needs to step up his defensive game. It doesn’t make any sense to have him play James Harden conservative defense if he’s not able to carry the team offensively for more than a handful of minutes per game.
Can the Jazz find some consistency?
Jazz are lucky to be sitting with a winning record at 3-2. In my opinion, they don’t quite deserve it. Despite a shortened training camp and preseason, I expected the Jazz to come out strong to start the season. They have some of the most longevity of any team in the NBA. Their biggest free agent signing was long-time Jazzman, Derrick Favors, who was only gone for year. I believed that their continuity would help elevate them above other teams early in the season.
For the Jaz to have a comfortable chance at winning tonight, they need DM and Bogie to play efficiently and effectively. Bogie’s stat line is almost always lacking in everything but points. If he’s not scoring, his value is extremely limited. If he can consistently shoot 40 percent from 3, it will draw gravity and open things up for the rest of the team.
On the other and, Donovan Mitchell needs to show better floor vision. I thought he was excellent on opening night, but has struggled since. Donovan Mitchell obviously wants to get his, but sometimes it results in his teammates, and even himself, getting less. Donovan needs to do a better job of kicking the ball out when he drives and making better reads. There will be times when I am astonished when Donovan makes a John Stockton like pass. Let’s hope we see more of these in tonight’s game.
Will the Jazz show some urgency?
One of my biggest beefs with the Jazz this season, and in other recent seasons, is the lack of urgency. When the Jazz play with a sense of urgency, it usually works out well for them. Jazz seem to be at their best when they are engaging right of the bat. If the Jazz are clicking on all cylinders, the ball is moving early and quickly, resulting in quality shots, especially from beyond the arc, early in the shot clock.
If we see the Ingles passing on open 3’s, only to shovel it off to DM, JC, or whoever, to go 1-on-1 from the top of the key with 3 seconds left on the shot clock, we can assume that things won’t go well.
Like the defense from the Suns here, watch the physicality and how they are denying the wings. Utah can't get to a dribble handoff. On the flip side, Utah is having too many of these type of possessions. Stuck in the 1/2 ct, fighting the clock. pic.twitter.com/dLp1sazJPo— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) January 1, 2021
Look at this defense from Jevon Carter. Good ball pressure and activity. On the flip side again, Utah getting into a set with 17 on the clock. Look at the rest of the Suns defense, they don't have to move. pic.twitter.com/44eK3aolVS— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) January 1, 2021
At the end of the season, which of these scenarios is most likely?
This poll is closed
Donovan Mitchell makes All-NBA
Rudy Gobert wins his 3rd defensive player of the year award
Mike Conley wins the 3-point contest during All-Star weekend
Bojan Bogdanovic averages 20 ppg while shooting 40 % from 3
Jordan Clarkson wins 6th Man of the Year
Quinn Snyder wins Coach of the Year
Jazz miss the playoffs completely and do not win any significant awards
Jazz make the Western Conference Finals
Former Jazz (not so) great, Grayson Allen wins the NBA’s citizenship award