Tonight the red hot Utah Jazz, winners of five in a row and 12 of their last 15, host the Charlotte Hornets. Charlotte has a nearly identical record as the Jazz, but play in the Eastern Conference. As a result of their "easy mode" are holding onto the 8th seed (0.5 games ahead of the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics). That's not to say that the Hornets have had an easy time with things this season. They have faced the same kind of adversity as any team, just -- you know -- in the East. You don't need to play a mistake free season to make the playoffs there. It's telling that the Jazz have the same record but no one is talking about them like they are a playoff team.
Anyway, the Hornets start the first game of a four games in six nights road trip tonight and tip off against the Jazz. There's some familiarity between the Hornets and Jazz for sure. Gordon Hayward signed a max offer sheet from them in July, which the Jazz matched. And the Hornets also currently field Al Jefferson, Mo Williams, and Marvin Williams -- three starters from an overmatched Jazz team that didn't even sniff the playoffs out West.
Marvin has been Marvin this season, making some of his threes, spreading the floor, and not really contributing much while paired up with Big Al. (They inherently compete for the same floor space) Tonight will be Big Al's return not just to Utah but to the lineup, he missed the last game. Jefferson is playing fewer minutes than he did under Tyrone Corbin, and is not close to being a double double guy or a 20/10 guy. Funny how some people can sell and sell and sell a point of view, but reality seems to strike that point of view down.
Maurice, on the other hand, is super hot right now. He's "Hansel from Zoolander" hot. I don't know when Steve Clifford is going to start Kemba Walker again, but I know that it's going to have to come up at some point. Whatever he is doing seems to be working right now because the Hornets are buzzing away to a 7-3 record in their last 10 games. Sadly for them, they aren't so active in the Beehive state.
Utah is 34-16 all time against the Charlotte Hornets (n.b. this is for the Bobcats franchise info, not the actual Hornets, who now are the Pelicans); and a dominating 19-5 at home. Utah is playing the best defense in the league right now, and their slow pace is a force multiplier. While the Hornets are not expected to play mistake free basketball on their way to the East playoffs -- to get a win against these Utah Jazz you kind of have to. Charlotte also plays pretty slow (21st) and has a good defense (6th in Opp PPG, and 8th in DRTG). So this is going to be a battle of strength vs. strength. And in these cases it's sometimes up to individual players to step up, or play the role of 'hero' if you will.
Al Jefferson can get his own shot off against most defenders, and few people have played hero ball as much in the ESA as Mo Williams has, in recent years. Charlotte can win this game. And that's a reality Jazz fans should be prepared for.
I hope that the Jazz don't take this game lightly either. They shouldn't. Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and others should be just as motivated to beat their former teammates as these guys are apparently motivated to beat the Jazz. Charlotte is already 1-0 this year, and would love to "pull a Boston" and sweep the Jazz.
I shudder at the thought.
Hornets Player Stats:
Jazz Player Stats:
- Alec Burks (UTA) -- out
- Al Jefferson (CHA) -- was questionable last night, he should be good to go tonight, per Charlotte beat writers
- Cody Zeller (CHA) -- remains questionable
- Ian Clark (UTA) -- NBA-DL
- Grant Jerrett (UTA) -- NBA-DL
The refs let Rudy Gobert get into foul trouble on some Big Al Jefferson stuff . . . it makes the game harder for the Jazz.
Lance Stephenson does some stupid stuff.