Last night, Russell Westbrook reached right into the heart of the Utah Jazz (37-23) and ripped it out. Again. They now have two losses on the season personal courtesy of Russ. But alas, our squad doesn’t have the time to dwell on that as they welcome the pesky Timberwolves (24-36) to the Viv tonight.
Regardless of the back to back, these are the kinds of games the Jazz cannot afford to drop if they hope to maintain their position in the 4th seed of the Western Conference playoffs. After last night’s loss they are only .5 game up on the Clippers and only 1.5 and 2 games up on Memphis and Oklahoma City. Falling to the 7th seed is still a very real possibility. We need this game.
It won’t be easy, though, as the Wolves’ young pups have stepped up their game recently despite losing Zach LaVine to a torn ACL. They’re 5-3 over their last 8 games with notable wins over Toronto, Denver and Dallas. They’ve scored under 100 points just once in those 8 games, so the defense will need to be sharp. Perhaps if we’re lucky, Minnesota won’t drop 12 of their first 13 3-point shots tonight (I’m not bitter about last night, not at all).
On a side note, if you’ll be at the game tonight it looks like there will be some fun activities attached to what’s been dubbed “Jazz Social Night.”
It's @usbank #JazzSocialNight!— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) March 1, 2017
We'll have a @theborisdiaw Q&A, special shooting shirts and arena scavenger hunt to win a w/ @rudygobert27! pic.twitter.com/qDGwm8nwvD
George Hill vs. Ricky Rubio
Rodney Hood vs. Brandon Rush (Yes, he’s still in the league)
Gordon Hayward vs. Andrew Wiggins
Derrick Favors vs. Gorgui Dieng
Rudy Gobert vs. Karl-Anthony Towns
Marquee Matchup: Gordon Hayward vs Andrew Wiggins
Andrew Wiggins is really coming on of late. In his last 5 games, he’s averaging 33 points per contest and shooting nearly 40 percent from 3. However, when compared to what Hayward has been doing lately (especially since the All-Star break) I would be surprised if G loses this matchup. Aside from his personal stats, he just makes the Jazz exponentially better when he’s on the floor.
Jazz offensive/defensive ratings when Hayward is on/off the court over last 10:— Spencer Wixom (@JazzJargon) March 1, 2017
On - 111.6 Off - 107.6
On - 100.6 Off - 107.4
Hayward hasn’t gotten nearly enough credit for his defense this season. Almost every night he holds the opposing small forward in check, and Wiggins has been no exception. In their matchups this season, Wiggins has scored 16 points on just 6-of-19 shooting and 13 points on 6-of-16 shooting. Expect Hayward to lock down Wiggins again tonight, at the very least making him inefficient on offense.
X-Factor: Rudy Gobert’s defense on Karl-Anthony Towns
This isn’t just a way for me to sneak in another marquee matchup. Alright, it is. KAT seems to have flown under the radar for much of this season, but his improvement is steady and he continues looking like he’ll turn in a multiple-MVP type career. He’s already racked up 45 double-doubles and recorded his first career triple-double this season. He’s averaging 24 points, 12 rebounds, nearly 3 assists and 1.4 blocks per game. He’s also shooting nearly 35 percent from 3. The defense could still use some work, but make no mistake, he’s the complete package.
However, KAT is not immune to the Stifle Tower, as we’ve seen this season already. While he has picked up his double-double in each game so far against the Jazz, he’s much less efficient than usual. His shooting percentage plummets from 52.5 percent to 40.6 percent. Much like every other opponent, Gobert’s presence bothers KAT around the rim.
Long story short, this game might boil down to if Hayward and Gobert can put the handcuffs on Wiggins and Towns. Based on recent history, there’s a good chance of that happening.