Tonight the Utah Jazz play their last game in the month of February. It has been a month of ups and downs, just misses, and ecstatic revelations. Utah has so far gone 5-5 and this game is the rubber match, either the Jazz will be below .500 or above it after tonight. Utah Jazz handled the Kings, Pelicans, Trail Blazers, Spurs, and Nuggets. They've held their own, but still lost to the Blazers, Grizzlies, Suns, and Mavericks. The one that hurts is the loss to the Lakers, at home, just one of several bad home losses to bad teams (Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic, I see you guys). If the Jazz can win tonight it heralds a big statement of intent -- this is a team that can, and will, kick your butt if you aren't ready for Utah.
Utah faces the Milwaukee Bucks tonight, and played them back on January 22nd -- a Jazz road win. Since that time the Bucks have gone 11-5. They've played well at home and on the road, and pulled off wins against the Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat, Portland Trail Blazers, Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Lakers (a common measuring stick), Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings, Denver Nuggets, and Philadelphia 76ers. A lot of those wins were before the trade deadline, and they really shuffled the deck on that day. Leading up to it the Bucks waived Jorge Gutierrez. Then at the trade deadline they:
- Waived Kenyon Martin
- Traded Brandon Knight (their best active player) and Kendall Marshall to the Phoenix Suns
- Received Tyle Ennis and Miles Plumlee back from the Suns
- Received Michael Carter-Williams back from the Sixers
Since the trade deadline the Bucks are a less dominating 2-3, but as of right now still occupy the #6 seed in the Eastern Conference. They are only 4.0 games from being a team with home court in the first round, so they have every intention on winning. It's an awesome one season turn around story for the team that had the worst record in the NBA just one season ago. Jason Kidd, hate him or hate him, has been a help in that process. Who knew?
Tonight's game pits a Bucks team that is 15-15 on the road (that is 11-11 against the West this year, one of their losses was to the Jazz) against a 12-16 home team (Utah is 9-13 against the West). Huge portions of those records were made up back when Brandon Knight, Jabari Parker, Trey Burke, and Enes Kanter were starting. Times have changed, and teams have as well.
Bucks player averages:
How does everyone on this team play 20+ mpg? Anyway, they share the load, no one guy is the guy Utah has to stop tonight. So this is much the same warning I had for the Denver game, but for a team actually trying right now. It's their second night of a back to back (where they lost to the Lakers), and their 3rd game in four nights, just like the Jazz. But their minutes distribution could indicate that they are less tired? I don't know. The Jazz guys slept in their own beds last night. That's gotta count for something.
- Athletic, tall PG who can't shoot: Michael Carter-Williams
- Stretch Four: Ersan Ilyasova
- Crazy long defender who can't hit a three: Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Guys who all CAN hit the three: Khris Middleton, Jared Dudley -- don't leave them open
- Rim Protector: John Henson
- Four oldest players: Zaza Pachulia, Jared Dudley, Ersan Ilyasova, O.J. Mayo
- Four youngest players: Damien Inglis, Jabari Parker, Tyler Ennis, Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Plumdog Millionaire: MIles Plumlee
- Is nothing easy?: Zaza Pachulia
- Injuries: Jabari Parker and Damien Inglis are both out for the season, O.J. Mayo is questionable for tonight, Jared Dudley had to get an x-ray after the last game but should be good to go tonight
Jazz player averages:
Our guys are really more of a "Big Three+" than a completely 'everyone contributes' type of team. Part of that is that our top guys really ARE better than replacement level. Part of that is, well, some of our guys are much worse than replacement level. It's a give and take, and right now guys like Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert are giving the opponents more than they can take.
Who is hot:
The Trey Burke bench experiment is working, it's going to be interesting to see how he fares against one of the guys he could one day become: Jerryd Bayless. Rudy Gobert is also scoring right now, which is almost scarier for other teams than a dude who can block 6 shots in a game. but no one is hotter than Jack Cooley right now, and his 81.0 PER.
Giannis against Gordon. Length and athleticism against polish and poise. Gordon is pretty athletic too, but in this case it's not going to matter as much as his ability to set up his teammates and his own shot with a series of actual pro-level moves. There are 10 guys on the Bucks who score 7 or more PPG, and only five on the Jazz. Gordon is reaching 20 ppg though, and should be the best player on the floor tonight.
The Jazz win, and finish February 6-5
The Bucks make the Jazz work for it.