The Utah Jazz start off a four game road trip tonight @ the Memphis Grizzlies. They play the next night @ the Boston Celtics, have a night off, play @ the Philadelphia 76ers, have another night off, and then play @ the "I don't know what to make of this team" Brooklyn Nets. You can try to predict how the team will do here, but frankly from what we've seen from our team lately you can pretty much expect the Jazz to be in contention for all four games.
On paper, and through the eye-ball test, it would appear that the toughest game is tonight, against the Western powers from the same time zone as me, in Chicago -- the Grizz. No longer the guys from Vancouver, Memphis has been really solid the last few years. Since 2010-11 the team has gone 235-135, which is winning 63.51% of their games. They are a lock for winning 50 for the 3rd straight season for the first time in franchise history, provided they get 8 more wins in the next two months. (N.B. The Lockout shortened season prevented them from doing this beforehand, but they still managed 41 wins in 66 games, which is very impressive.) How have they stayed in power despite coaching changes, ownership changes, and a local boy bringing Sexy Back? Well, they've done it with defense.
And their defense is nothing to under-sell, as their traditionally slow pace makes it a force multiplier. They are going to make the playoffs for the fifth straight year in a row, also a franchise best. During this period their DRTG has been ranked #9, #7, #2, #7 and #4 in the NBA. Their pace of play has gone from being #15th, to #18th, to #30, #30, and #26 this year. If they were a fighting style they wouldn't be the flashy WWE, or the agile Kung-Fu. It would be MMA style ground and pound. Tony Allen calls it grit and grind. They have an identity and that identify forces other teams to play their game.
As fate would have it, this year's Post-Trade Deadline Jazz aren't doing anything BUT play slowly, and killing teams with defense. Before playing a strong defensive team that was slow, like the Pacers, meant instant death for the inefficient Jazz behind Mo Williams and Al Jefferson. (Btw, Al Jefferson as a Top scorer is just a taller Trey Burke who takes fewer moneyball approved shots than our second year bench point guard.) Today the Jazz make OTHER teams choke under defensive pressure.
I'm not going to make some allusion to Gordon Hayward being our Rudy Gay or anything, but there are some similarities between who Memphis used to be a few seasons ago and who the Jazz are today.
Memphis is tough on defense. We're learning. Both teams really depend on their frontcourt pairing. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol against Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert is a match of titans. Gasols don't usually perform well against Gobert. And Randolph is too polished to be troubled by the mercurial Favors. (Some days he's the best player on the court, other days he is nearly invisible on offense.) I don't expect the Jazz guards to make Memphis worry at all though. Not this season, at least.
Memphis is about stability, and these old guys know what they are doing.
I'm not quite out of my mind to talk about Mike Conley being locked up on defense by Dante Exum. I'm instead going to look at our "advantage" of Gordon Hayward against Uncle Jeff Green. Green seems to kill the Jazz, not always as a primary attacker, but the guy who gets open and makes plays because our defense is preoccupied elsewhere. Memphis knows how to stop teams, Utah is still learning how to do this.
If the Jazz can stop their secondary / tertiary scorers they may have a chance of slowing down the Grizzlies. I do expect Hayward to struggle a little bit tonight, but his one on one play may be what delivers a win for this team down the stretch if the game is close.
Injuries and absences:
- Alec Burks (UTA) still out for the season
- Vince Carter (MEM) is questionable with a left food tendon injury
- Ian Clark (UTA) is assigned to the NBA-DL affiliate of the Jazz
- Russ Smith (MEM) is assigned to the NBA-DL affiliate of the Grizz
- Jarnell Stokes (MEM) is assigned to the NBA-DL affiliate of the Grizz
Utah won game the first game between these two teams 97-91. Memphis won the second game, 100-90. Both games where close and there are two more left to play. I predict that none of them will be blowouts. Expect a hard fought match tonight.
We're going to end up missing a lot of threes tonight, badly. And that could be the game.