Tonight we get to see the Utah Jazz (23-16) in their first action after their five game road trip (2-3). The trip had some ups and downs, but one surprise was that the team became healthy. That health will be tested tonight against the East leading Cleveland Cavaliers (28-8). The Cavs are the defending champs, and the main reason seems to be LeBron James. LeBron is only 5-8 against Utah in Utah for his career. He’s dominated the Jazz, though, and has career averages of 30.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 6.2 apg, 2.0 spg, and 0.9 bpg against the best defenses our guys could come up with between 2004 till 2016. So how did the Jazz win all those games against such a beast? Easy. You endeavor to stop everyone else.
Tonight Cleveland will be without presumed starting shooting guard J.R. Smith, and human coloring book Chris Andersen (out for the season, it seems). But they are getting Kyle Korver in uniform and in action tonight. LeBron has had the luck to play with some of the best ever shooters, and Korver is almost without peer when you look at his historical career from outside the arc. Utah is usually pretty good at defending the three but they are going to be challenged early and often.
Kevin Love is taking 7.0 threes a night, Kyrie Irving 5.7, LeBron 4.8, Channing Frye 4.8, Iman Shumpert 3.0, and Richard Jefferson 2.3. (Not listed here are injured J.R. Smith and his 6.6, and traded away Mike Dunleavy and his 2.5) As a whole team the Cavaliers take 33.1 threes a game, which is second most in the NBA. And they make .389% of their attempts, which is also second in the NBA. Their game is predicated upon penetration and passing.
They average 21.8 assists a night as well, and are third best in the NBA with .534 eFG%. They share the ball, find the open man, and make the shot. It’s simple. It works. They have a title because of it. Still, it’s predicated upon LeBron and Irving drawing defenses to them on their drives, and moving the ball around after. No LeBron and there’s no real reason to help defend. And then defenders can stay at ‘home’ on shooters. Man, it’s great to have a star player.
It’s probably also great as a star player to have so many competent teammates.
Cleveland has one of the best offenses in the league (4th in PPG, 4th in ORTG), but they aren’t invulnerable. Defensively they could be better. They don’t cause a lot of turn overs, they are average at defending the shot, and are almost terrible at protecting their defensive glass. If the Utah Jazz, now healthy, go big with Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert for more of the game than not then it could work out. Extra possessions are always nice to have. Of course, that could just mean more possessions to turn the ball over, with how Utah has played of late.
Marquee Match-Up: LeBron and Gordon
Star players step up against other stars. And we need to see Gordon Hayward go hard at LeBron James tonight. He has before, so I believe in him.
With Rodney Hood in a slump, George Hill back from injury, Derrick Favors still finding his groove, and Rudy Gobert now a target for opposing team’s defensive game plans it’s really going to be on G-Time lead this team tonight.
LeBron is one of the best students of the game (How many other stars tweet at the NBA about fixing their app because it’s not good enough to show which players are doing what on any given night?), and knows what to expect from Gordon. He’s going to be ready. He’s not under-estimating him.
X-Factor: The “Other guys”
If Kyrie Irving is going to drop 30 tonight, or if Kevin Love is getting a double double, or if Tristan Thompson looks like an All-Star it’s going to be game over. Utah’s “other guys” need to follow the leader (Hayward) tonight and have great games. Don’t let this be a game that has to be decided between Channing Frye and Trey Lyles. Utah can win this one if the rest of the starters play well, and well together.
Prediction: Close loss to the NBA Champs at home
Blame the refs.