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Downbeat #2032 - The Utah Jazz are on a roll on the road

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Will the Jazz finish strong on this trip? Who will they face in the 1st round? What’s going on with the SLC Stars? And more!

NBA: Utah Jazz at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz are winning on the road. They are winning overall too, to the point that we can worry about first round NBA Playoff match-ups as well. Also, how bad can you mess up a team? Test your skills with the worst of the worst.

Our guys are back at it again, finishing up their road trip with a back-to-back set @ New Orleans Pelicans and @ Dallas Mavericks. New Orleans is playing a lot better with Jrue Holiday back in action — even if they have won only one of their last five games. It will be the Pelicans last game of their brief home stand, and they’ll get back out on the road. This schedule is rough for New Orleans for sure, as nine of their current 12 games are on the road. Yikes. They could be wary, and it could be a good time for the Jazz to make sweet music in New Orleans.

NBA: Utah Jazz at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas is also better than their record with new addition Yogi Ferrell bring some fire to them. Dallas went on a crazy run of late beating the Spurs, Cavaliers, 76ers, and Trail Blazers before getting wrecked by the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers (a 1 pt loss in Portland). When Utah plays Dallas it will be the 3rd game in four nights for both clubs.

The Utah Jazz are winning games. They have won three in a row. They have won 11 of their last 15. They have won 26 of their last 37 games as well. (How the team has fared since that four game losing streak from mid to late November.) All in all, the team is 33-19: best in the division, fourth best in the West, and 6th best in the NBA.

FiveThirtyEight.com

And the team is projected to be one of the best in the NBA by seasons’ end according to FiveThirtyEight.

They are 3.5 games behind the Houston Rockets (one game remaining between HOU and UTA), 2.0 games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers (three games remaining between LAC and UTA, two in UTA), 2.0 games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies (zero games left between these two teams, MEM won the series 3-1), and 3.5 games ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder (two games left between OKC and UTA, both in OKC).

Just because Utah is in the 4th seed right now doesn’t mean that they will stay there. Also, just because LAC is 5th, MEM is 6th, and OKC is 7th right now doesn’t mean they will stay in that order either. We can’t also assume that HOU remains at 3rd either, you never know what’s going to happen after the All-Star Break, right?

So out of Houston, Los Angeles, Memphis, or Oklahoma City -- which team do you absolutely want to AVOID in the playoffs? (In a possible 3v6 or 4v5 match-up where the Jazz are anywhere from 3rd to 6th)

Am I crazy enough to think that Houston is the only good match-up? Sure, James Harden will be almost too much to handle, but no one else on that team scares me. Also their center Clint Capela isn’t a three point shooter - so that allows Rudy Gobert to stay in the paint on defense.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis can beat Utah at Utah’s own game of playing slowly and playing defense. Los Angeles has veteran stars who know their window of contention is getting smaller week by week and are desperate. And OKC . . . well . . . maybe the Thunder are like Rockets here. Great lead guard in Russell Westbrook, non-three point shooting center, not a lot of help surrounding them.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

But that’s how I see it. What do YOU see?

While the Utah Jazz are clearly heading to the NBA Playoffs, I don’t think we can say that same for the Salt Lake City Stars. And that’s fine. Right now they are 11-21, last place in their division, second last in the conference, and fourth worst in the entire league. The point of the Stars isn’t necessarily to win the D-League title. The point of the Stars is to help the Jazz win the NBA title.

So let’s take a look at some of the players in the Jazz pipeline, and what have they done so far this season:

  • Marcus Paige (31 G): 34.2 MPG, 13.0 PPG, .408 / .375 / .824, 2.5 RPG, 2.3 APG, 2.2 3PTM, 1.0 SPG
  • Joel Bolomboy (18 G): 34.1 MPG, 15.9 PPG, .562 / .519 / .692, 13.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.4 BPG
  • J.J. O’Brien (29 G): 33.6 MPG, 9.9 PPG, .382 / .308 / .657, 3.9 RPG, 2.8 APG, 0.8 SPG
  • Tyrone Wallace (21 G): 29.3 MPG, 16.2 PPG, .430 / .220 / .752, 4.5 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.5 SPG
  • Quincy Ford (10 G): 25.2 MPG, 4.7 PPG, .268 / .179 / .857, 6.8 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.6 SPG
  • Jaylen Bland (24 G): 19.7 MPG, 6.1 PPG, .338 / .331 / .556, 2.2 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.7 SPG

The fun thing so far this season has been the addition of vets on the Stars this year, so let’s look at what they’ve done so far as well:

  • Henry Sims (11 G): 30.0 MPG, 18.5 PPG, .476 / .381 / .789, 8.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.8 BPG
  • Eric Dawson (2 G): 25.2 MPG, 6.5 PPG, .333 / .000 / .833, 10.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.0 BPG
  • Sundiata Gaines (28 G): 27.5 MPG, 14.0 PPG, .415 / .340 / .577, 4.4 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.5 SPG

Also, yes, Raul Neto and Alec Burks both played a game with the Stars too, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters here is that Marcus Paige is hitting NBA threes (instead of NCAA threes), and Joel Bolomboy is clearly too good for the D-League.

I do not know if J.J. is going to be an NBA player, but I have liked what I’ve seen so far from Tyrone Wallace.

Also, Sundiata has been the Russell Westbrook of the D-League, getting close to a triple double numerous times. But I don’t know if that’s going to be something the Jazz need anytime soon. Bolomboy could be useful THIS SEASON, though.

Who should finish the game at power forward, Joe Johnson or Derrick Favors? Or should it be a situational thing that factors in not just who the Jazz are playing, but also how the refs are reffing the game / how the Jazz are playing?

Utah’s defense (not just getting stops, but also getting the defensive rebound after a stop) is out of this world with Favors in there. And Derrick has also made a lot of clutch offensive rebounds, tip-ins, and scores near the basket in his time with the team as well. Traditionally he is powerful. Of course, if he or Rudy or both are tasked with defending a mobile, outside shooting big then it could be trouble.

Iso-Joe is one of the most clutch players in NBA history on offense. His ability to spot up and hit three pointers set up by all ball-handlers is just something that turns this Jazz team into killers. The closing line-up outside of the paint that is George Hill, Joe Ingles, Gordon Hayward, and Joe Johnson is a ‘pick your poison’ line-up where all four can dribble, pass, shoot, create, and get to the line. Joe just isn’t a banger though, and the other team can get extra possessions out there because there’s one fewer rebounder / Rudy can get double boxed out freely.

Joe or Derrick? Or do you roll the die on Boris Diaw having one of those games where he can do what both of those guys can do? It’s a tough situation to be in, but I guess being fluid is the way Quin Snyder is going to have to play this. One of the main problems is that the OTHER teams out there who have been to the Playoffs before know their rotations. Utah is still trying to figure it out, and it’s February.

So how bad can a team actually be? We may have a way to find out.

If you can’t read that, it’s one of those popular “You have $15 to make a team” games. And this time it’s to make the most dysfunctional locker room possible. And really there are some great picks here — DeMarcus Cousins is certifiable, D’Angelo Russell snitches, you never really know if Donatas Motiejunas wants to be there, and heck, for a whopping $8 of your $15 dollar salary cap you can get Markieff Morris and twin Marcus Morris — who are at their craziest when together.

Thankfully, and honestly should we be surprised, there are no Utah Jazz players here. (Jazz DNA?) But as for these players, almost uniformly these are the players I don’t want to ever be on the Jazz (except for, perhaps, that LeBron James guy).

Also, did you see this? Crazy.

I guess with that level of play I could stomach having LeBron on the team I root for. But that’s a tangent. Back to the worst possible locker-room . . . this is who I select:

  • PG: Ty Lawson ($2) - There’s few things worse than a guy who could possible be in jail for running someone over while drinking and driving. That level of PG in-stability is a great way to keep the locker room out of synch.
  • SG: Dion Waiters ($1) - There are some great picks here, but I needed to save some money somewhere. Also, I needed someone who was going to be on Shaqtin’ A Fool quite a bit. Dion is my man.
  • SF: Matt Barnes ($5) - I don’t even know if I have to detail why this is a good place to build your team around. And it’s not even about Derek Fisher at all (well, maybe a little), but just his whole deal is messed up. He looks like the poster boy for a Hep C pamphlet at a 24 hour clinic.
  • PF: Blake Griffin ($2) - Flopping. Whining. Flexing. Being used to making the playoffs, but never really winning anything. Wonderful.
  • C: DeMarcus Cousins ($5) - Clearly he’s the franchise player here. It’s impossible to suggest otherwise.
  • Coach: Fred Hoiberg
  • GM: Vlade Divac
  • Owner: James Dolan

Brutal.