The Utah Jazz (5-3) travel to face the Charlotte Hornets (5-1) for the middle game of a five game Eastern Conference road trip. The game tonight against the Hornets will most likely be the toughest of this road trip. The Jazz are playing well, winning the first two contests of the road trip against the Knicks and the 76ers. The Hornets are playing very well too. Their 5-1 record has them atop the Southeastern Division.
They’ve quietly put together a very strong start to the season. They rank third in the league with a +8.8 average point differential. They rank fifth in opponents’ points per game allowing 96.5 points per game. The Jazz rank second in this department allowing only 94.4 points per game. It could be a defensive battle — but they’ve got this guy named Kemba Walker who is a pretty good player and a recent Jazz killer. He burned the Jazz for 52 points in Charlotte in January.
If his Jazz killing continues, there will be lots of points scored and the Jazz will need to score to win. Charlotte is coming off a win on Monday night in which they ran the Pacers out of the gym early. The Hornets scored on their first 12 possessions en route to to a 43-point first quarter. The final score ended up being 122-100 but it doesn’t seem like the game was even that close.
Charlotte will most likely be without two of their starters in Roy Hibbert and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. They’ve shown they have competent replacements for these players however. George Hill has still not been ruled out (or in for that matter) of this game. All Jazz fans are hoping that the Jazz held him out of the 76ers game for precautionary reasons and rest thinking that they could get the win without him. I think that he will play tonight. Boris Diaw is still likely out with a leg contusion.
Marquee Match-up: George Hill vs. Kemba Walker
[ED. Hill is Questionable for tonight]
These are two players who are playing at very high levels right now — All-star type levels. There is no question that this is the match-up most likely to have the most effect on the outcome of the game. Kemba Walker has been dynamic this season averaging 24.3 points and 5.5 assists while shooting a very effective 49% from the field and 48.7% from three point range. The Hornets play through him. He gets lots of high screens. Rudy Gobert and the other Jazz bigs will be put in situations where they’ll have to make a decision to run him off the three point line or let him shoot over them.
X-factor: Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors
Much will be asked of Rudy and Derrick tonight on both ends of the floor. The Hornets will most likely try to draw Rudy out of the paint with high on-ball screens. This may leave Favors to protect the rim. Favors may also be tasked with guarding former Jazz man and small-ball “stretch 4” Marvin Williams. It will be a tall order for these two, especially in helping keep a team in check that is averaging over 105 points per game.
I see this as the statement game of this road trip for the Jazz. The Hornets are a dangerous team and the type of team that Utah typically struggles to guard. Both teams come in to the game playing well. Hopefully the Jazz will have George Hill and be as close to full strength as they have been this season.
Buckle up. This is going to be a good one.