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Utah Jazz at New Orleans Pelicans Game Preview: team returns home for Mardi Gras

Game #52: Jazz (26-25) @ Pelicans (19-32)
Location: Smoothie King Center • New Orleans, LA
Time: 6:00 p.m. (MT)
TV: ROOT Sports • Radio: 1280 AM / 97.5 FM

Mismatch? Sure. Why not.
Mismatch? Sure. Why not.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight the Utah Jazz face the New Orleans Pelicans on the day after Mardi Gras. It's hard not to see some secondary (and even more) story-lines surrounding this game. Of course, we know that the Utah Jazz used to be the New Orleans Jazz -- but moved for a variety of factors towards objectively greener pastures. In New Orleans the Jazz didn't win, they didn't draw a crowd, and worst still, were losing a lot of money along the way. They even had trouble scheduling their home games. Having Utah play in New Orleans is always slightly awkward, worse still around the primary reason why New Orleans is on the map -- Mardi Gras. Forget that this is a match-up between two nearly perpetually injured clubs that feature some of the best, young, bigmen in the game: Anthony Davis, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert. Forget that this is a match-up of a really good offensive team against a really good defensive team. This is that awkward meeting your ex in the mall or something awful like that. New Orleans has that 'it' credibility as an immortal city, but the Jazz actually look like a franchise that's worth singing and dancing about. And tonight they tip off for Game 3 of their four game season series.

The Jazz won game one 101-87. They were somewhat injured then, and missing Favors -- but Trevor Booker had, arguably, the best game of his Jazz career in the emergency start. It wasn't much of a contest. The Pelicans won game two 104-94, Favors was back, but Rudy and Alec Burks were out. Both were played in Utah and both were far from as competitive as possible. I've listed only the Jazz injuries here because of my familiarity with the team, the Pellies were missing guys too. In fact, both teams have played the entire season without a rotation player, Dante Exum and Quincy Pondexter. Both were starters last season and both are eyeing a return to action with their clubs next fall.

And in a way that "next season" outlook has put a cloud over both clubs, and that "next season" talk is primarily just because of injuries. NBA Fans were kind of cheated out of two really exciting, young clubs because of their inability to stay as healthy as the Warriors or other lucky teams out there. It would have been fun to see them battle for playoff position, but that battle will have to wait till next season.

THIS season it is beginning to looks more and more like two teams going in opposite directions. The Jazz are getting healthier and healthier and winning games. The Pelicans are going to be playing the rest of this season without their three best wing players, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, and Quincy. That really sucks. It's lugubrious right now, and New Orleans is currently starting Bryce Dejean-Jones at SG, a guy who was previously this season picked up off of the NBADL waiver wire by the Idaho Stampede.

With the injuries there is a talent disparity between these two teams. However, there's more to the story than just that. New Orleans is at home where they are 13-12, and they are rested. The Jazz played in overtime last night and flew in late last night. While the Jazz are playing well right now (in the W/L column, they don't actually start games well or are blowing teams out), they are still only 9-15 on the road. They should be tired, their four best uninjured players all played between 35 and 45 minutes last night. Also, LAST season the Pelicans won the season series 2-1, and they already got a split in Utah this season.

It's not going to come easy for the Jazz tonight. But few things have come easy for either club this year.

If we choose to ignore all of the "woe is me" from this game, on paper this looks like a tactical battle between two teams that play at different speeds. Alvin Gentry has a team here that is one of the best in the league on offense, though I am certain missing your three best wings will hurt that. Quin Snyder, on the other hand, has a team build for defense in the half court.

2016 2016 Game 52 UTA at NOP Team Comparison Box

Where New Orleans is strong, on their defensive glass, with their ability to take care off the ball on offense, Utah is strong -- on the offensive glass, with their defensive peskiness at harrying ball-handlers.They both have their warts as well, the Jazz foul a lot on defense, the Pelicans don't even know what defense is. I am encouraged by this last part, the last thing a tired team wants to do is face a good defensive club on the second night of a back to back.

Also, being "tired" should help the Jazz to play at a slower pace. A slow pace means the defense does set up on both sides of the court. This limits transition opportunities but means Utah's Favors / Gobert lineup may have a way to slow down the Davis / Omer Asik lineup. Bigs against bigs. (Unless Ryan Anderson is having a hot game, like he did last time these two teams faced off. In that case, expect to see more Trevor Booker and Trey Lyles.)

Player Stats:

Offense --

2015 2016 Game 52 UTA at NOP - NOP Stats 1

2015 2016 Game 52 UTA at NOP - UTA Stats 1

Defense --

2015 2016 Game 52 UTA at NOP - NOP Stats 2

2015 2016 Game 52 UTA at NOP - UTA Stats 2

Ultimately, this could be a game of match-ups. If Utah is able to keep their best players on the court and not have to play small then I expect Utah to have a good chance to extend their win streak. If New Orleans forces the pace and the line-ups, well, that would suck. But to their credit, it's not like playing Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca, or Kendrick Perkins for big minutes is a legit pathway towards success this season. So why WOULDN'T they go small?

But going small isn't the end of the world for the inventive Snyder. After all, going small means we may see some Joe Ingles or Gordon Hayward at the four -- and they both usually cause more problems for the other team than they are imperiled by. And Hayward and Rodney Hood should have a really good night against a team missing their top three wing players. No disrespect to Bryce, Alonzo Gee, Luke Babbitt, and Dante Cunningham . . . but you guys should get the business from our wings.

The trump card for the Jazz should be Raul Neto. Neto was the only starter not to play big minutes last night (due to foul trouble), and few teams even scout him. As long as he's able to make sure Norris Cole and Jrue Holiday don't get open threes all night long, he will be able to limit their effectiveness. On the other side of the court I think his stealth scoring ability and really hot three point shooting should be something they do not have an answer for.

Still, in this last game before the All-Star Break the only thing people are going to highlight is Anthony Davis. Gobert is on a mission to win the one-on-one match-up every night, and he wants a piece of the All-Star. Favors too. You can't let one man beat your entire team. But you also can't let the Pelicans win the paint tonight.

But what do I know?