Utah Jazz (1-1) @ Los Angeles Clippers (1-1)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, California
8:30 PM (MT) — On NBA TV, 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
On November 25th, 2015 the Utah Jazz strolled into the STAPLES Center and beat the Los Angeles Clippers — ending a really brutal streak of losses to the historically poor franchise. It hurt, it hurt bad, to be on the losing end of a Clippers Streak. Sure, they got away with some ‘vet calls’ and guys like Chauncey Billups really closed the door on our squad. But on November 25th, out of nowhere, the Jazz fought back. They won. In LA. Why? Because Gordon Hayward busted out for 33 points (off of 22 shots), he would also add 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals. He got to the line eight times that night, and dropped five threes. Truly, the Jazz don’t win that game without someone stepping up to beat a star studded team. Blake Griffin had 40 points and 12 rebounds in that game, and Chris Paul added 24 and 8. And they still lost. Thanks to Gordon.
We all got a glimpse of what the Jazz could play like when someone was playing the role of star. The team is going to have to treat water for a while now because Gordon is out. And fitting, the first game the team is playing without Hayward is the Clippers — the team he really starred against.
Aside from that win on the road, the Jazz lost their other two games against LAC last season, both games in Utah. (104-109, and 99-102 in OT). These two teams ARE close, even if one of them is star studded and the other seems to be cast from a collection of NBA forgettables (according to which players are popular).
Utah will be without Gordon Hayward, starting power forward Derrick Favors, and bench secret weapon Alec Burks. So . . . expect a whole lot more Rodney Hood tonight. It’s not a “must win” game, but it’s a game where we’d really love to see Rodney step up. He has a history of picking up his play when the wagons are circled. And Utah is starting the season off in that particular fashion.
In the two previous Preseason games so far Hood is averaging 8.0 PPG (.333 FG% .333 3PT% 1.000 FT%) in 22.1 MPG. The 8.0 PPG isn’t that hot when you recognize that he’s taking 9.0 shots a game to get there. (Not the worst ratio on the team, but evidence that Hood is streaky as streaky can be.) His 2.0 APG to 2.0 TO per game ratio isn’t that sexy either. But it’s preseason. I expect Rodney to step up. Or, well, you know, there is Joe Johnson.
Hope you didn’t forget about Joe. The Clippers haven’t, he has torched them a few times over his career. Is he going to have a big game tonight? He doesn’t really have to. But the Jazz do need someone to step up. Today is Thanksgiving in Canada. So, why not Trey Lyles?
Lyles appears to be ready to make more noise on the court this year instead of on the bench. He can play PF/SF/C in head coach Quin Snyder’s offense. With the way the league is going, that’s going to be a feather in his cap. Is he going to be able to bust out and drop 30+ points on a Western power on a whim? Probably not. But we’ll see.
The bottom line is that more than one player has to step up for Utah. If the team is going to be on their trajectory for 50 wins then we’ll see that.
These are the player stats after two games so far in the preseason. They aren’t that impressive outside of what we’re seeing from Lyles, Hayward, Favors, and Gobert. With Hayward, Favors, and Burks out we may get to see some more players because of trickle down minutes.
No Hayward and Burks means more wing minutes. That means we’re going to see more of Dante Exum at SG, meaning there’s more minutes available at PG. Shelvin Mack could see some SG minutes as well, the end result should be a little more action for Raul Neto. No Favors means more minutes for Lyles — but also for guys like Joe Johnson to maybe steal some more at PF. We’ll see. Guys like Eric Dawson and Henry Sims could get some playing time tonight. I think they’ve earned it.
But if you’re looking at who Snyder is playing, and with all the rash of injuries all around the league right now, I’d be silly not to expect some sort of shake-up. I don’t know if the starters have been announced yet, but I’d also be surprised if Exum is going to return to the bench any time soon. He’s really developing (rediscovering) great synergy with Rudy Gobert. And that’s invaluable.
So what’s going on with the Los Angeles Clippers? Well, their championship window has to be diminishing by the month at this point as their best player is Chris Paul, who doesn’t look like he’s in his peak anymore. Doc Rivers actually started him alongside Raymond Felton, another point guard from the 2005 NBA Draft, and son Austin Rivers. That’s three point guards alongside Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. There are numerous reasons why would start a game like that. The theory that CP3 is still in his peak wouldn’t be one of them in my mind.
But realistically this Clippers team is deep-ish enough to be a problem for most non-elite teams.
Blake is still a great stats guy. CP3 and J.J. Redick could shoot better, and probably will tonight. But as much as we have to respect the Clippers, if not for what they’ve actually accomplished in the NBA Playoffs than for at least who is on their team — Champion forward Paul Pierce is an example. Marreese Speights was on a team that won a lot of regular season games. Diamond Stone has a cool name. Dorrell Wright used to have a cool haircut. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is an actual African Prince. (Though the economics of African royalty may be exaggerated a little in e-mails, this one has to work for a living.)
Marquee Match-Up: Rudy Gobert vs. DeAndre Jordan
Jordan can’t made Free Throws, but he’s hitting 60% of them so far in the preseason in 5 attempts a game. Gobert can, making over 80% of them in over 10 attempts a game. It’s more than who can or cannot be hacked. It’s about rim protection, defending outside of their zone, getting rebounds, and being effective on offense. Jordan has done it at a high level for years. Gobert has the tools to do it better.
X-Factor: Star calls
Utah has no stars. The Clippers have probably five. Stars get star calls. Non stars do not. That has been a huge factor in all the close games between these two clubs over the last five seasons. We’ll see if they will continue tonight.
If Utah is going to turn the corner they need to make the playoffs. If the Jazz want to make a statement then they have to start beating some of these Top 5 Western Conference teams. They didn’t beat Portland. Tonight is going to be a preseason test. One they are likely to fail unless some guys step up to fill in Gordon’s shoes. The Jazz should lost tonight, especially if Snyder is still fiddling around with the line-ups. And he should.