The Utah Jazz (21-13) are taking their talents to the east coast to face off against the Brooklyn Nets (8-24) in their first game of 2017. The Jazz are on a three game winning streak, albeit against the Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, and Phoenix Suns (three teams averaging a .291 win % this season). The good news is that the Nets have a .250 win % this season. The bad news is that the Jazz are without starting PG George Hill once again. Utah is 10-10 this season without Hill in the lineup.
George Hill gets Alex Len elbow, and a concussion: pic.twitter.com/qoDg8mIpf3— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) January 1, 2017
Hill took a #savage elbow to the face from Phoenix’s Alex Len in Utah’s 91-86 home win on New Year’s Eve. Hill lip was lacerated, requiring 18 stitches and exhibited concussion-like symptoms, requiring him to go through the league’s concussion protocol. That means Hill is out until he can pass the “I’m no longer concussed test”. It’s a league requirement and necessary health precaution for anyone with potential brain damage so for the love of humanity, please stop going after Hill with your #hottakes on twitter.
George hill is soft . Sits out if he gets a booger.— PatrickRedmond (@Irishpapaof3) January 1, 2017
Please sir, don’t.
These two teams haven’t played each other yet this season so for the most part we can only assume that Utah is a better team based on these teams’ respective records. Brooklyn is 2-8 in their last 10 games. We can also use the power of inference to surmise that based on rosters alone Utah has a lot more talent. That’s not always a great indicator of results, however, as good teams can lose to bad teams. That’s why we watch sports, I think, to see what will happen with the variables.
While the Nets do have some ‘actual talent’ instead of just giving them the ‘on paper loss’, they will be without starting point guard Jeremy Lin. No Lin and no Hill means that wing players are even more important. And that’s where we have the Nets missing rotation guard Joe Harris. On the other side of the ball, the Jazz have never been healthier having Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Joe Johnson, Joe Ingles, and Alec Burks all ready to play! Wow! Five actually healthy wingmen! With their collective ball handling ability and versatility Quin Snyder can elect to go big or small with them. (Joe Johnson can play some four, and Alec Burks can play some point. What a feeling!)
Brooklyn is the fasted paced team in the league, and achieve that by causing turn overs. They don’t rebound that well (26th in DRB% actually, 27th NBA rank in ORB%), but they still find a way to run. They also take a lot of threes, but aren’t terribly effective at it (5th in attempts, 26th in percentage). Utah shouldn’t overlook this game. It would be easy to though.
Marquee Match-up: Brook Lopez vs. Rudy Gobert
What Brooklyn and Utah both share is a double-double threat center who plays on both ends of the floor. Lopez is the only big name to survive those Nets teams that boasted stars like Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett. This season he has played and started in 29 of the Nets’ 32 games. He is averaged 20.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg (wut), 2.8 apg, 0.5 spg, and 1.8 bpg. He’s going to be facing Rudy Gobert, who is averaging 12.5 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.6 spg, and 2.6 bpg.
Lopez has range now and isn’t afraid to play outside of the paint. Rudy is at his best when he’s in there. So the fine line between how far can Lopez inch out and how far will Rudy follow will be an on-going fulcrum upon which this game will be moved by.
X-Factor: Alec Burks
Seriously. Burks has played just 37.5 minutes in all of 2016. That’s almost nothing for the second half of last season, and absolutely nothing for the first half of this one. We’ve missed him. And I think we’ve missed him both on offense and on defense. His ability to knock down corner jumpers and drive to the rim when the offense is stagnant helps. But so too does his ability to switch on pick and rolls and follow guys through screens. As a PG/SG/SF defender his agility and length really fit in well with the defensive scheme of this team. He’s not a pure hustle / high IQ defender like Joe Ingles. (Someone whom he could be competing against for minutes) But what we had previously seen was an athletic defender who could make game winning players (like the winning block against the Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio on a fastbreak layup).
But that was Alec Burks of 2015. We don’t know what Alec Burks of 2017 is going to end up being. But tonight is the first step towards finding out.
He’s so important that we didn’t even mention that this is going to be a revenge game for Joe Johnson tonight (he has a few teams to claim that on, now).