The Utah Jazz (2-2) will welcome the Dallas Mavericks (0-3) to the Viv tonight. Coming off the fever dream win over the Spurs at AT&T Center, Utah needs to tread carefully tonight. The Mavericks are coming in winless, and they will be desperate. This is a team that is aging but talented; far too talented to go winless for too long. Here are some things to keep an eye on tonight while the Jazz try to climb over .500:
1. How will Dirk play?
Dirk Nowitzki missed the last two games with a combination of a sore Achilles and a stomach illness. He is expected to make his return tonight to try to get Dallas over the hump and to their first win.
Historically, the Jazz have had a hard time corralling the giant German. In 63 career games vs the ‘bad city’, Nowitzki has averaged 23.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists. We may have caught him at a good time as he might need a little practice to shake off the rust. However, I’m not getting my hopes up too high since half of our defensive anchoring front court is still on a minutes restriction. Speaking of...
2. Derrick Favors’ continued restriction
Last night in San Antonio, Favors played just 15 minutes, all in the first half. The common belief is that they took that approach in order to prep him to make his first back-to-back appearance on the season. In the limited minutes he has played, it’s gotten even more clear how crucial Derrick is to this team. He was on the court while we built up the first-half lead that was crucial in beating the Spurs last night. Still, I don’t expect Favors to play more than another 15 tonight.
3. Lyles’ offensive awakening
Through the first half last night, the talk on Twitter was that Trey Lyles was struggling, despite our beloved Amar’s repeated attempts to throw water on the raging fire.
Lyles is going to get better by being there on the court, making mistakes, and then watching film / working on errors with coaches.— Amar (@AllThatAmar) November 2, 2016
Lyles is NOT going to get better by NOT being there on the court against a team filled with HOFers who are beating him.— Amar (@AllThatAmar) November 2, 2016
Some people are forgetting that Lyles is the YOUNGEST guy on this team.— Amar (@AllThatAmar) November 2, 2016
In the fourth quarter, though, the story flipped on it’s head. Lyles played better-than-expected defense down the stretch and his corner 3 with 1:30 remaining essentially put the final nail in the Spurs’ coffin. Lyles still finished the night just 2-of-7 from beyond the arc, but we’ll see if he can build off the confidence gained by playing a crucial role in last night’s win. Look for him to hit more than a few shots tonight.
4. San Antonio Hangover?
The Jazz reached a major milestone last night in so many ways. First and foremost, they finally performed well in the clutch against an elite team. With 3:47 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Spurs had trimmed the Jazz lead to 5. At this point last season, it’s possible (likely, even) that Utah would crumble down the stretch and lose in a heartbreaker. This season, they closed out on a 7-0 run instead. I like this better, personally. A major reason the Jazz pulled off the upset was their 3-point shooting. They sunk 15 shots on 31 attempts for a cool 48.4 percent.
That’s all great, but the Jazz will lose a lot of the credit they built up last night if they come out flat. To become the caliber of team they were prophesied to be this summer, they’ve got to shoot well and play with that energy night in and night out. If we come out flat against this desperate Dallas team, it may get ugly. I’m not expecting them to shoot nearly 50 percent from 3 again, but I am expecting them to come out firing again. I pointed out last night that the 31 in that statistic was more important than the 15, and I stand by that. In today’s NBA, Utah’s got to shoot more 3s consistently than they have in their history.
5. Will Jazz fans boo D-Will... Again?
Let me start by saying I’m not trying to tell fans how to be fans; that’s not on my to-do list. However, I would tentatively suggest that perhaps the Jazz would be better served if the fans treat Deron Williams like any other visiting player tonight. Not because I feel bad about booing him or I feel like he doesn’t deserve it. Rather, D-Will just seems to feed off the attention and uses it to torch us. I hope the fans don’t give Deron the time of day tonight, but truthfully, I know better. Let’s just hope he doesn’t go off.