The Utah Jazz (44-28) visit the Staples Center Saturday for an early afternoon game against the Los Angeles Clippers (43-30). The Jazz are currently 5-point underdogs and FiveThirtyEight doesn’t give them much of a chance, either (34%). Considering the team’s history in oddly-timed games (i.e. morning/early afternoon, late prime time), it’s hard to disagree with. The Jazz tend to come out flat in those games. That can’t happen today.
Against those odds, a win today would be massive for Utah’s chances at wrapping up the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Despite falling on their faces in Chicago and Indiana on the recent road trip, the Jazz are 1.5 games up on LA, thanks to the Clippers’ untimely losses to the Timberwolves, Bucks, Nuggets and Mavericks. We’ve been losing some games we shouldn’t, but so have they, which puts us on even ground. Today’s game is basically a two-game swing in the standings because it also determines the tiebreaker. If Utah finishes 2-2 with the Clippers and finishes ahead of the Thunder in the standings, they’ll have the tiebreaker by virtue of a division title. A win would give the Jazz a 2.5 game lead (3.5 considering the tiebreaker) with 9 to play.
George Hill vs Chris Paul
Rodney Hood vs JJ Redick
Gordon Hayward vs Luc Mbah a Moute
Boris Diaw vs Blake Griffin
Rudy Gobert vs DeAndre Jordan
Quin Snyder could elect to go a few different ways at starting power forward, but since he’s been rolling with Diaw recently (including in our last match-up with the Clippers), I think that’s who we’ll see there. Personally, I’d give Joe Johnson a look to start there, but either way the rest of the team will have a lot on their plates corralling Griffin. I don’t exactly trust any of our current power forwards to be able to deal with him one-on-one. (Get well soon, Favors.)
Key Match-up: Rudy Gobert vs DeAndre Jordan
As you’ll recall, things got more than a little chippy in the Jazz’ win over the Clippers last week. The Clips (primarily their ‘Big 3’) got pretty physical and whined a lot, as is typical with them whenever they face the slightest bit of adversity. At the center of it, unsurprisingly, was Rudy Gobert. Rudy is a huge key for this team every night, but particularly against this Clippers team. He doesn’t get intimidated and he’s not afraid to jump right into the mix, which is something this team is in desperate need of sometimes.
Rudy handled DeAndre fairly well last week, holding the Clippers All-Star to 12 points and 7 rebounds, a -2 in a 6-point Clipper loss. Gobert put up 11 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists, a +2. However, he has struggled with Jordan in the past. In the Jazz’ two big losses to LA earlier this season, Jordan racked up a combined 17 points, 29 rebounds and 4 blocks. With him on the court in those two games, the Clippers were a +45. Yikes.
Look, for all the flack we give Jordan about making the All-Star team over Gobert, the fact remains that he’s really good. He sticks around in yearly award discussions for a reason. It’s probably not a match-up that Rudy is ever going to thoroughly dominate like he does other nights (cough-Knicks-cough), but if he’s able to cancel it out or just get a slight edge, that’s a win for Utah.
X-Factor: Joe Johnson at PF
Joe Johnson at the 4 has been phenomenal this season. It’s not the most sustainable thing in the world because it takes a lot out of the aging, undersized vet, but it’s incredibly effective in spurts. It could be especially good against the Clippers because of their lack of big man depth. With Mbah a Moute starting and playing a lot of minutes at small forward, that leaves Marreese Speights as essentially the only LA big man coming off the bench. Depending on how Quin wants to play the timing and the substitutions, there are some match-ups there that Johnson should be able to make some hay against. In the last Clippers game, Johnson finished with 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting. We’ll need something similar to pull off another huge win.