Wow, Al Jefferson was AWESOME last night. It's like he knew when we needed him most, and he *ahem* delivered. It was like he found the All-Spark from Transformers lore.
(I know, the following video makes no sense if you weren't a child of the 80s)
It's not hard to say that this was Big Al's best game in a Jazz uniform. Ever. Big Al has gone for 13 different 30/10 games in his 223 career games as a Jazz player. (yes, Malone averaged 30 / 10 one season) Big Al's huge night had him finishing with 40 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists.
There were other games where he scored more efficiently, or rebounded more, or whatever. But in terms of how important this game was to our season, and to the contributions of the rest of the team (it's not like someone else had a great game last night) -- this one stands alone. The most points in a Jazz uni. And out of all his 30 / 10 or more games, the most assists, and the 5th best fg%. Over all, Al crushed it last night. This is the type of game you need from a legit first option. This is the type of game you can build the rest of your team around.
Of course, he's had 'this' type of game only 13 times in 223 career games. That's only 5.8% of his games. Carlos Boozer did this type of things 31 times in 398 career games. (In both cases this is playoffs and regular season combined) That was 7.8% of the time. You could argue that both guys did not live up to their contracts; but perhaps that's just the way the NBA is now-a-days. (Check out how much the Lakers are paying for their bigs in the next beat.)
That said, this was the best game of Al Jefferson's Jazz career. We needed him to step up, and he did. Yes, the game he had to commerorate his grandmother's passing (against Detroit) was emotionally very important. But this game meant more to the franchise and this season. And this is a game us Jazz fans will remember for the ages.
The Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers both have two games remaining. I broke this down a zillion times over the last few days, and the latest "in-depth-ish" breakdown on the situation can be found here. The big news is that Kobe Bryant got hurt last night. Really hurt. And I would conservatively say that he's out for the rest of this season, and it would be in his best interests to sit the entire 2013-2014 Season out / rest his body / heal up. He's not going to do that, of course. He has a crazy drive and I do not doubt that he has the discipline and desire to go through post op rehab like a beast. I do think he should go it slow and rest more. He's a few months older than I am, and sometimes I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I can only imagine how crazy it must be for him.
Quickly though, we need to assess how likely it is for the Lakers to continue winning bereft of their superstar. The good news for them is that they have a few All-Stars / future HOFers to spare. Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol are making $19,536,360 and $19,000,000 this season respectively. A twin towers / high-low approach should be something you can build around. Regardless of Steve Nash and his playmaking and shotmaking wizardry, they're going to need other guys to step up. Particularly guys like Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison. Both of these guys have been in playoff battles and are vets. The Lakers really have no bench though. And late in the season that can be a difference maker.
The Lakers play at home against the San Antonio Spurs, and then at home to the Houston Rockets. I'm counting on Gregg Popovich to play hard and kill the Lakers in the first game. That gives LA one loss. Provided we also beat the Timberwolves in their gym (it will be their 3rd game in 4 nights) this puts LA and UTA in a tie. And we have the tie breaker.
So it falls then to our ability to beat the Memphis Grizzlies on the road in the last game of the season; while the Houston Rockets somehow beat the Lakers on the road. There's some interesting things here. First of all, Houston is coached by former Boston Celtic icon Kevin McHale. So never forget that. Second, Houston may still be fighting for that #6 spot against Golden State. Third, we are hoping that Memphis is no longer fighter for the #3 spot. Those three factors may influence who gets in more than who is and is not injured for the last Lakers regular season game this year.
But what do I know? A Gasol / Dwight lineup should kill an Omer Asik / Donatas Motiejunas lineup. But who guards Jeremy Lin and James Harden?
If LA loses both of its' next two games, and we win one, we're in. If they win one we have to win both. It's that simple. I don't think they have the ability to win the next two outright.
But enough about the Lakers, let's talk about the Jazz! This season has been a crazy season. It's been more frustrating for me than anything else. I guess my desire to always see the big picture and put everything within a context of the Jazz franchise's historical continuum makes me miss the forest for the trees. Or miss the trees for the forest in this case. We have 42 wins this year. Even if the front office doesn't admit that this is a transitional year, and even if we have no clear ideas what direction we're going in (again, this uncertainty is a product of this being a transition year) we still have secured a winning record. We laud the 2003-2004 Jerry Sloan let team (a dirty dozen really) that just barely missed the playoffs with a 42-40 record.
This team this season will finish with that same record, or a better one. And this is with a higher payroll ($67.2m vs. $28.6m), but also with Tyrone Corbin at the helm -- not a HOFer. There are interesting things about this team to enjoy and appreciate on their own merits. Sure, we're not a contender, we don't have any marketable players, no one made an All-Star or All-Rookie team, we don't have any league leaders, and we don't even have an identity.
We're still something to love though, warts and all.
Jazz rationalist Nathan Baxter (@LilBax) of the Utah Jazz Basketball Beat posted a video describing some of these things. It's worth watching, and it gave me pause for sure. I really think I was missing out on liking this team because I was so fixated on all the things about this team that I did not like / did not measure up to previous Jazz teams.
Really, check this out.
Obviously, let's make a big list of things we liked about this Jazz team. Get busy in the comments section -- because I think this could be a great group exercise for all of us Jazz fans who may not have particularly been fans of the 2012-2013 Jazz. I am as guilty as any other of falling into that category.
The more and more I've learned about advanced stats the more and more I've come to appreciate some of the small things players do on the court. However, you can't just look at the stats because there are a ton of really small things that never make it onto a boxscore. One of the under-appreciated (by me at least) things I've seen this season is that as a whole our team has become one that does dumb stuff a little less consistently now. Early on this season one of the WCDDS things we used to do was been way too cavalier in our transition game. I remember we'd screw up a break attempt by trying to make an impossible pass. Part of this was that we didn't have the right floor spacing on breaks. We also did not have the ball in the right guy's hands as well. Now, well, the ball on breaks is usually still in the wrong guy's hands. But now we're not trying to make that dumb pass.
More and more I see the Jazz out in transition, and then have discretion (the better part of valor) win out, and we try to set up our offense. Getting a good shot is always better than trying to take a quick shot, or a momentary advantage shot when you're a team that WCDDS as much as we do. Having smarter wings, or a better passing PG may alleviate this problem. While we can still complain about our poor transition game, at least now we have one that knows itself a little bit better and doesn't try to force things.
Now we slow it down and try to get 2 points, instead of rushing, and making sure the other team got the ball back before we even got a chance to shoot.
There are a lot of other things we're doing better as a team that don't show up on the boxscore. I think a huge part of this is just the automatic affinity that grows between players as the season goes on. Guys know each other better, just by being around each other more. Additionally, some of the younger guys just ARE better. Is this because they were "developed" or is this just the natural intrinsic development of now being 21 and 22 instead of 19 and 20? That can be debated a lot, but over all the net result is that we're a better team than we used to be on a few things.
We have a lot of work to do still, but the small things matter. I'm glad we no longer try bounce passes on the run between two defenders. That's something I appreciate.
Jazz Santa / EB posted this little Derrick Favors vid of his pregame speech for Fan Appreciation night.
This season is not over yet. And we all know that Jazz basketball is a 365 day thing here at SLC Dunk, but I would also like to tell you guys that I really appreciation making this community such a great place to come to every day. Before I go too LHM sappy here and start to tear up I will say that before the internet I had never met another Jazz fan in my life. Because of the internet, I get to interact with Jazz fans every single day, of every week, of every month, of every year.
This still blows my mind because, again, I had never met another Jazz fan in my life. Now, I get an opportunity to talk about them every day with other people who care. I don't know all of you as well as I should, but I've been lucky to get to know a few of you on a personal level. Blogging here has been like winning the grand prize of some superfan contest. And while this blog has it's ups and downs (mostly in reflection of what the team is going through), it's still a place I enjoy visiting every day.
And the reason for that is basically because of all of you who also visit this blog every day. Without you, SLC Dunk wouldn't be the place it is today. So thank you for participating and getting involved. For all the lurkers, I see you guys too. While you don't participate I try every week to write something that not only gives you something to think about, but something to maybe make you want to jump out of the shadows to post something -- either in approval or disapproval. Our Utah Jazz have such a great history of home court dominance because we have the best fans in the league.
I'm lucky enough to get the trickle down effect of blogging for the best fans in the league.
So thank you guys all so very much.
And shut up.