The Utah Jazz started off the season on the road, out East, and ended up playing three games in four nights. After six games they have played four of them as the visitors. The Jazz will head out East again and play the next four games against opponents rested and waiting for them. This time they are facing higher caliber opponents. They will tip off against the Cleveland Cavaliers (LeBron James, and company), then fly down to Florida for a back-to-back against the Miami Heat (Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) and Orlando Magic (and Jazz-killer Tobias Harris), before hitting up the Atlanta Hawks (Paul Millsap) on their way back home. At the end of the trip the Jazz will have traveled over 4,000 miles and will have played eight of their first ten games on the road.
It's brutal. But so far this season few teams have been able to keep up with the Jazz' own form of br-Utah-lity.
Let's look at this trip in more detail.
Game 1: Tuesday, November 10th, 2015 -- Utah @ Cleveland
This is probably the "hardest" game because it's against the reigning Eastern Conference Champions, and led by the best player in the game right now, LeBron James. However, and this is the good news, you never know which players David Blatt is going to suit up from game to game. This is a team that's looking to win a title, not trying to peak in November.
Starting point guard, Kyrie Irving, has a fractured left knee cap and will be out. Starting shooting guard, Iman Shumpert, has a ruptured extensor carpi ulnaris, and is out. And J.R. Smith, local knucklehead, is questionable for Tuesday with a right knee contusion, and quadriceps tendinitis. Furthermore, Sasha Kaun is out with a personal matter, the birth of his child, and is questionable for a return tomorrow. The big one is that LeBron James has a thigh injury and is also questionable for Tuesday. He is "very sore" but hopes to play. After a day of rest (they had Monday night off), he may be ready to go.
Regardless of who is going to play, it's always a challenge when going up against a contender. The Cavs have won six games in a row after dropping the first game of the season. They have also won four of the last five games against Utah in addition to having won the last three in Ohio, in a row. Cleveland has yet to lose at home this season, and, well, they're a really good team.
Mo Williams knows what he's doing, Matthew Dellavedova can check the best of them, and Richard Jefferson is somehow still getting it done. But we're not really worried about these guys. In a game without LeBron and Kyrie you still have to worry about their size. They are legit inside with Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, and Timofey Mozgov. They have size, effort, rebounding, and shooting from their front four. The Jazz do have , , and the energy of in a contract year -- but this is a case where Cleveland's bigs may just be deep enough to be more than a nuisance.
In the case that LeBron James doesn't play I think the Jazz do have the potential to win the wings argument with Joe Ingles. Let's remember it's not just that they may not be without LeBron, but also without Shumpert, and possibly Smith. I think our guys could handle RJ and James Jones, right?, , , and
If LeBron does play I don't think he makes life easy for us and our defense. And if your best chance of winning is hoping the other team is missing THREE starters then your team isn't evenly matched against the opponent.
Utah will be in this one, and it will be a lot closer than expected. I do think one of these two teams will make a little separation in the 4th quarters with free throws -- the final score will not be indicative of how close parts of this game was. I see the Jazz losing this game, but winning a lot of points for their development. A 'foundational' loss, if there ever was such a thing.
Of course, the X-Factor is that this is a potential'hometown' game, as he's from Columbus, Ohio. He could be really great, or he could struggle, like he did in the game against Detroit. If he's shooting well he could be our wildcard all season long.
Game 2: Thursday, November 12th, 2015 -- Utah @ Miami
Years ago we had the Miracle in Miami. This time around the talent disparity between the two teams shouldn't be so stark. The Heat aren't amazing, but they are still formidable. Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, , , and should win you a lot of regular season games. Adding guys like , , , , , , and make you a really tough out in a later Playoff round. They are all pretty much healthy, and will have had a night off between games to face the Jazz.
Utah will be starting off the first of a back-to-back set, and are pretty healthy too -- if we keep forgetting Dante Exum's injury it didn't happen, right? Miami, like Cleveland, doesn't need to go small. This allows Utah to use their best advantage to their advantage -- Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are really undefeated so far this season. I'm not sold on Whiteside, and I think our guys can score around him or through him. I don't know who guards Chris Bosh, but if the Jazz can keep the pace slow, and not surrender too much in transition, then the Heat can be beat.
If there's a 'surprise' game for the Jazz to win on this road trip it will be this one. Miami has not won two games in a row all season long. They seem to win one and then lose the next. And they've beaten the Charlotte Hornets, Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Toronto Raptors. They've lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, and Indiana Pacers. They play the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. I can see them winning that one, giving them a two game win streak. They'll be looking for a three game win streak against the Jazz -- game two of a six game long home stand.
I think Utah can play spoiler here, and be the first Western Conference club to beat Miami. Of course, this game isn't going to be easy at all. A conservative personal will chalk this up as a loss. I will too, though, I do think the Jazz could steal this one. I'm confident that these two teams aren't that far apart. I'm confident in the ability of the Jazz to be able to steal one on this trip. And I'm confident that the guys most likely to fall are the Heat. After all, they're only 4-3. They're not amazing.
Game 3: Friday, November 13th, 2015 -- Utah @ Orlando
Remember last season when we got swept by the Magic? Oh, you blocked that out too, did you? The Magic aren't pushovers. They do have a 3-5 record, but they lost in double overtime to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and lost in single overtime to the Houston Rockets. They also beat the Toronto Raptors. They could have claimed three really solid wins so early in the season. That would have been very impressive -- much more impressive than beating up on the New Orleans Pelicans or Philadelphia 76ers for sure.
Tobias Harris (SF/PF starting at PF) are like what the C4 could have been if they all started and played together early in their careers. They are young, and all of them are offensive weapons. They play the 18th fastest pace in the NBA, but score the 9th most points per game, 103.4. Their defense isn't that hot, but they still are an impressive, coached team., , , and
Right now they are missing bigman, and 20-10 machine, Nikola Vucevic. He has missed the last two games with a right knee contusion. He does not appear to have a timetable for return. He did not play tonight (Monday), as they lost to the Indiana Pacers. Jason Smith, a face-up big and noted Jazz-killer, is also out of action right now. Not having either of them in the line-up could work against the Jazz because that influences how quickly and how frequently they will decide to go small.
Cleveland and Miami aren't shrimpy teams. They can maintain a strong post presence on offense and defense. Orlando is not. They start Tobias Harris at PF, and they also have Jazz killer(who went 4/9 from deep tonight) on the roster. is another fool to contend with, but hasn't been overly impressive so far this season. It would be fitting for him to have a big game against Utah because I disbelieve he is actually good.
But for Orlando it's really about their guards. Evan is averaging 18.7 ppg (* not including tonight's stats), Victor is averaging 16.3 ppg, Elfrid is at 8.9 ppg, and they have thisguy too! (Former team mate of and ).
I really hope the Jazz win this one. On paper it's the "easiest game" on the trip. It will be the second game of a back-to-back, and the third game in four nights. And it's also against the team the Jazz will probably match up worst against. But you gotta beat Orlando, man. You just gotta.
Game 4: Sunday, November 15th, 2015 -- Utah @ Atlanta
The last game of the trip, also a third game in four nights, could be the hardest. This is my lock for a loss. Though, I felt like the game at the end of the previous trip, against the Indiana Pacers in the second night of a back-to-back, and third game in four nights, would be a loss too. So what do I know? Not much, apparently. But I do know that Jazz fans will love seeing Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver back in action. I don't know how much they'll enjoy seeing Sap draw one of our two bigs out of the paint, or enjoy seeing Kyle Korver somehow get open, as our defenders lose sight of him in transition and in the halfcourt both.
The Hawks are one of the best teams in the league, and dominated the regular season last year. They just lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves, at home, so they are going to #staywoke for a while. The Hawks do play the Pelicans, and then the Celtics, before facing the Jazz. So the team we see on Sunday could be very different than the one that just lost tonight. Regardless, Mike Budenholzer's team is kind of a big deal here. (In the East)
They play defense. They play offense. They play at a medium pace, and they are ready to do what it takes to win games. They have a lot to prove, and with an improved Dennis Schroder, healthy Al Horford and Thabo Sefolosha, and new addition Tiago Splitter they could be eyeing an trip. That means getting a good seed. And unlike the Cavs or the Heat, that means they aren't going to coast through the regular season.
I do think that they have traditional size, and as a consequence, are a better match-up for the Jazz despite their polish. Orlando could be the perfect storm of failure -- but Atlanta is going to be the "feel good" game for the Jazz. They are young, and play defense. And no team wants to tangle with the Jazz. They are likely to lose this game, but they will die hard. They're not going to give up the ghost early, like some previous Jazz teams have done on the road.
This is a surprising team. And they will surprise teams all season long. This Atlanta team will be ready for them, though. So despite feeling good about playing four tough teams hard, this is going to be a loss.
Our guys will bend at times, but not break. I feel as though they will go 1-3 on this trip, but I think it's not out of the question for them to go 2-2. The losses should be @ CLE and @ ATL. What happens in Florida will be really up to which Utah teams show up. After all, years ago the team went 4-0 on this trip, and that one was even tougher than this one with two sets of back-to-back games, and the last one was the 4th game in five nights. This one is only four in six. I love this team. And I wouldn't be surprised to see them turn some heads out East with their performance.