The Utah Jazz (5-4) kick off their 4th game of their Eastern road trip against the Orlando Magic (3-5) in the Amway Center. It’s a rough patch in the schedule: the 4th game in 6 nights, with one day rest. Utah’s coming through a bit banged up: starting point guard George Hill is still questionable, Boris Diaw is still out with a right leg contusion, and Alec Burks is still Cinderella before the ball. So far the Jazz are 2-1 in the road trip, with wins over the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers, before a close loss in Charlotte to the 6-1 (!!) Hornets.
The Magic, on the other hand, are coming off of a 123-107 beatdown at the hands of the “pesky” Timberwolves. So far on the season, their point differential wins is +2, +8, and +2, while their losses have all been fairly non-competitive: -12, -16, -6, -32, and now -16. It can be said that the six point loss to the Cavaliers was one of their better games this season, and that was only after mounting a furious 37 point 4th quarter comeback attempt. And when you let Zach LaVine drop 37 (and 7 threes) on you, you’re probably not doing too great as a team.
They’ve gone through some major roster overhaul this summer too, adding Serge Ibaka via a trade of Victor Oladipo, and Bismack Biyombo and Jeff Green via free agency. Yet both their defense and offense have gotten significantly worse: last year, they had Offensive and Defensive Ratings of 105.1 and 106.8; this year, 101.2 and 111.9 respectively. Their leading scorer, Evan Fournier, is gets just about 17 points a game. While their starting five each make more than 10 points a game, their bench contributes just over 28 points per game. Those offseason moves are not looking great.
On the flip side, Gordon Hayward has come back looking like an All Star after missing the first six games of the season. In the last three games, he’s averaged just around 26 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. While George Hill has been injured, Gordon has filled in admirably as the team’s new first option. He should be able to dominate whoever’s matched up against him, taking advantage of Aaron Gordon or Mario Hezonja’s relative inexperience.
Speaking of matchups, here’s the projected starting matchup:
- Shelvin Mack vs. Elfrid Payton
- Rodney Hood vs. Evan Fournier
- Gordon Hayward vs. Aaron Gordon
- Derrick Favors vs. Serge Ibaka
- Rudy Gobert vs Nikola Vucevic
Not much to say here. The Jazz have the talent at every position except point guard, and we have the international man of mystery Dante Exum to step in whenever the opposing point guard gets hot. Rodney Hood can match Evan Fournier’s firepower step for step, and Orlando’s main man off the bench, Jeff Green, has nothing on 15 year veteran Joe Johnson. Bismack Biyombo may be a defensive force/rebounding machine/elite shot blocker, but there’s a reason why he’s averaging under 4 points a game.
Marquee Match-Up: Rudy Gobert vs. Nikola Vucevic
Nikola Vucevic has quietly been one of the better young big men in the past few years, putting up 18/9 and 19/10 points/rebounds in the last two seasons. Hoever, this year, he’s averaging just about 14 points and 11 rebounds. Rudy will need to dominate defensively and offensively, as Vucevic is primed for a breakout game at some point.
The Jazz have oodles of talent on the rebuilding Magic. However, it’s been a really long road trip, and the Jazz are definitely banged up. It’s worth remembering that the Jazz didn’t win either of the games against the Magic last season, and we know they’ll play hard against a team that’s tired and road-weary. Perhaps Quin will go deeper into his bench - last year’s starter at point guard, Raul Neto, and our enigma of a draft pick, Joel Bolomboy, haven’t played much at all this season. Meanwhile, Orlando has had one day’s rest in between each of their last 5 games, and played their last game at home.
Prediction: Jazz Win a Nail-biter
It’s going to be a tough game on the road (have I said this enough times at this point?). The Magic are hungry and want to stop losing by double digits, especially in front of their home crowd. They have rest on their side. But the Jazz have the clear talent advantage this year. It’s going to be a good game.