Okay, game one is in the books, and the bottom line is that the Utah Jazz lost to the Portland Trail Blazers 98-89 (Game Preview - Blazers guards focus - Five Things to Watch - Game Thread - Game Recap). We didn’t navel gaze that much in the aftermath because, well, there’s only so much you can learn from the first game of the preseason. In this season, with how things have started, you get a W for not having anyone get injured. Many teams have already taken a L on that, and the Jazz have not.
They are likely to not, period, because they were so snake bitten last season they are going to be extra cautious all season long. That started in the off-season by adding so much depth. And it’s continuing in the preseason by keeping guys out of games. Tonight Derrick Favors, Rodney Hood, and Alec Burks aren’t going to play. And that’s fine with me. It gives us fans a little more to focus on tonight!
ONE: A true test for Utah’s “Depth”
Three of the rotation guys are out. It’s just like last season, and the season before. But this time around the team has better depth to better handle this type of situation. So missing the starting PF (Favors) should mean that instead of Trevor Booker and a prayer book we now have Boris Diaw, Trey Lyles, Joel Bolomboy, and because it’s the preseason, also Henry Sims and Eric Dawson. Furthermore, because we’re in this “going small” era that means Joe Johnson and others could slide in there as well. Which is great, because the Suns are likely to go small anyway.
What the Suns have an advantage at is guard — and missing starting shooting guard Hood, and back-up Burks is going to hurt. Having Dante Exum back is great. Chris Johnson is usually a “break in case of fire” type of player. I don’t think we have a fire right now, but we are going to probably go with two point guards more than I’d want tonight. After all, head coach Quin Snyder is starting two: George Hill and Dante Exum. There are three other point guards on the roster in Shelvin Mack, Raul Neto, and Marcus Paige. They all played off the ball last year (two for the Jazz in stints, one in the NCAA).
Again, this plays into what the Suns wanted to do anyway. Go Small. Go Fast. We’ll see if our talent margin in the paint will save us tonight.
TWO: Superstar Hayward to score at will, again?
Before the first preseason game I asked if Gordon Hayward could take another step. His first half performance against the Blazers answered that with some terrifying efficiency. It was like first Orlando Summer League game version of Gordon Hayward out there -- clearly a head and shoulders over everyone else on the floor. (I’m just going to pretend that Damian Lillard wasn’t wrecking our team at will here. Humor me. It’s October.)
Is he going to be able to exert his will against the Suns? I hope so. I also hope we see more of him at the line (yes, he went 7/8 from there in game one), I’m greedy like that. Furthermore, can we get him posting up? Please? He’s going into his 7th season and he has finally built a body capable of punishing guys. Let’s see it happen!
THREE. Just let me love you, Joe!
Shake off whatever rust you had against the Blazers, be the guy we all want you to be, Joe. Score. Make shots. Create for others. You are a 7 time all-star. More than that -- you are the first ever 7 time all-star to sign as a free agent with the Utah Jazz. We need you to be good. Really. Especially on night where we are going to go small, and need talent to help shore up what’s missing when three rotation guys are out.
Just give us a reason to embrace you more than the implicit ways that we have already by signing here. We love you. But make us fall in love with you.
FOUR. The Paint
Tyson Chandler. Alex Len. Dragan Bender. Marquese Chriss. Alan Williams. These are big guys. Rudy Gobert doesn’t have his partner right now in Derrick Favors. He’s not a rogue cop, he needs his back-up. Is that going to be Jeff Withey tonight? Joel Bolomboy? It has to be someone, as Rudy can’t do it all himself.
If Utah is going to win tonight they are going to have to own the paint. This means making sure the Suns’ guards don’t get easy shots at the rim, and this means making sure whatever is a miss is collected by the Jazz. Defense doesn’t end when someone misses, it ends when you have the ball back and are on offense. Utah will have to play complete defense tonight against a team with so much firepower.
FIVE. Remember Closeouts?
Oh man. Things were bad against Portland. They hit so many threes I thought it was the 1992 NBA Playoffs again.
Phoenix loves to take threes. It seems like Utah loves to watch other teams take threes. If both teams get what they want it’s not going to be fun for Utah fans. More than anything else this is what to watch tonight -- to see if there’s any game-to-game adjustments being made.