This is it, ladies and gentlemen - the Second Round! The last time the Utah Jazz (4-3) made it this far was back when Jerry Sloan was the head coach, and the normal NBA Playoffs rotation was Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, C.J. Miles, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, and . . . Kyrylo Fesenko? Fesenko? I mean . . . Fesenko? Yeah, it’s been a long time. Well, tonight the Jazz in the second round will start things off on the road against the Golden State Warriors (4-0). The Dubs are the #1 seed in the West this year, and have gone to the NBA Finals the last two seasons in a row - winning a ring in 2015.
Honestly? The Warriors are going to make shots, even contested ones. They are going to rotate well on defense and beat our players to spots on occasion. They can dig in and cause turn overs. And their bench is going to find ways to look better than they are. Worst still? It’s going to be loud there. It’s going to be really loud at the Oracle - their current fans are good fans. I can’t hate on them for making noise. I will suggest that the old Delta Center crowds were louder.
This is a pretty crappy game preview because my brain is turning into cauliflower (blame Jody). But I think we know what we think we know about these two teams. Actually seeing them on the court will tell us a little more about what we didn’t know. (This is getting into that crazy Donald Rumsfeld “known unknowns” territory.) (I watch a lot of documentaries.)
Golden State can win fast or slow. They have a very tenacious defense even though almost everyone talks about their ability to score early and often. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant are some of the best offensive players in this generation. Draymond Green is a Mr. Everything who can hurt you in so many different ways. Andre Iguodala has sublimated himself to fit into the role that Steve Kerr needs him to play; and they are getting really solid minutes from everyone from David West to Zaza Pachulia to Ian Clark. This is a very good team. And we know that.
But we don’t know what a completely healthy Jazz team can do against them. We’ve seen a big Jazz line-up swing and connect on a few punches over the last two to three seasons. The Clippers thought the Jazz were the team they faced in the regular season. A healthy, playoff team Jazz appear to be greater than the sum of their parts. Gordon Hayward, George Hill, Joe Ingles, and Joe Johnson are doing things on offense and defense right now. While bigman Rudy Gobert is hobbled, and Derrick Favors is hobbled, and the refs are “Rooking” them, the stability of Boris Diaw has been very appreciated. Quin Snyder has a great offense that this team knows how to run. And it gets really good looks, but in the first round this team failed to capitalize on them.
The Warriors swept the Portland Trail Blazers. The Jazz won a tough seven game series against the Los Angeles Clippers. Tonight we see a veteran club that’s rested host a younger team that’s never been here before with this core.
Utah needs to work the glass. Golden State needs to play it’s game.
Marquee Match-Up: Gordon Hayward vs. Kevin Durant
If Hayward has level’d up to a legit first option, star wing player he’s going to have to prove it. And Durant, an offensive savant, a 7 footer who shoots threes with ease, is a huge test compared to the Luc Richard Mbah a Moute he faced in round one.
I could, and probably should, write more here. But I just don’t have the juice tonight.
X-Factor: Dante Exum
There’s no data on this guy. He’s long. He’s quick. He plays defense. He needs to get his career started at some point. Bryon Russell didn’t get any regular burn and wasn’t trusted by his head coach until he was forced into playing him. I could see a similar result here - our guards will be in foul trouble. Dante could be a big factor in this series, if he ever gets off the bench.