Weekly Utah Jazz Preview

Thanks for checking in your weekly Jazz preview.  If you’ve been watching closely, the Jazz have played well to date.  Not many of us could have expected a 10-5 record with one game to play in January and for my part, I’m happy.  But let’s take a quick reality check to see how we’ve gotten here shall we?

In January, the Jazz played 14 games (excluding tonight’s game at home against Portland.)  Of the 14 games, 11 were at home.  The January record was 10-4 with 3 of the losses at home (2-1 on the road.)  However, the Jazz faced some of the poorest competition in January with games against New Orleans, Golden State, Cleveland, New Jersey, and Toronto.  This season, the Jazz have played an average strength of schedule of .501, good enough for 16th in the league.  But with so many games at home, that rank may have been masked just a bit.

This month will show us just who these Jazz really are.  Including tonight’s game against Portland, the Jazz play 16 games, 9 of which are on the road.  This group of games has an average combined record of .520, good enough for 10th hardest (as of today’s writing.)  And just as last month was comfortable at home, this month will be a test for the Jazz as they become road warriors, face some tough back-to-back nights, and see their first taste of a back-to-back-to-back (all on the road.)  They play four back-to-back sets (three of which are a home/road split and the other is a road/road set.)  They match up against both LA teams, Oklahoma City and Houston twice each.  And don’t forget the NBA All-Star game the weekend of February 24.

Portland Trail Blazers

Location: Energy Solutions Arena – Salt Lake City, Utah

Date: Monday, January 30, 2012

Time: 7:00 PM   TV: Root Sports

Can you imagine if the Jazz had re-signed Wesley Matthews after his rookie season with the team?  Raja Bell likely wouldn’t be here.  CJ Miles?  Maybe.  Heck, there is so much to think maybe or what if just on this one scenario, it sort of hurts my head.  But you know what?  I miss Wes Matthews.  But I digress . . . .

What to watch for:

Portland is 12-8 and 3rd in the northwest division, right there with the Jazz.  They have some solid wins as well as some questionable losses, but in this strange season, who doesn’t?  LaMarcus Aldridge is the most consistent player for the Blazers and the offense goes through him.  He averages the highest points per game, shots per game, and free throws per game and is second in per game averages in rebounds and blocks.

The Jazz will be short-handed tonight with Raja Bell out and Al Jefferson doubtful.  CJ Miles and Derrick Favors will likely move into the starting rotation.

Prediction:

The Jazz need this game a bit more than the Blazers do.  Our schedule is getting very tough right away while the Blazers can ease into February and I think the Jazz will come out with a little more purpose tonight after a close call against the Sacramento Jimmers, err, I mean Kings.  However, I don’t know that it will be enough.  Paul Millsap will have to step up his game to another level tonight, Derrick Favors will have to keep out of foul trouble, and the Jazz perimeter shooters will need to step up, but I don’t think it will be enough tonight to stop the Blazers.

Jazz lose.

Los Angeles Clippers

Location: Energy Solutions Arena – Salt Lake City, Utah

Date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Time: 8:30 PM   TV: ESPN

The beginning of the LA two-step this week.  Last time the Clippers were in town, they were without Chris Paul or Mo Williams.  They were in the middle of their back-to-back-to-back set with the Mavs waiting in LA for them to return.  It will be a different game as the Clippers will want to reestablish their claim to “lob city” after the Jazz went school yard on them in the 4th.

What to watch for:

The threesome of Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, and Blake Griffin is formidable and if Jefferson and Bell are still sitting out come Wednesday, this is going to be a tough game for the Jazz.  Four of the Clippers starting 5 average double figures in scoring and backup point guard and former Jazzman, Mo Williams is also averaging double digits.

Prediction:

I don’t know that the Jazz can hold off this team for a second straight win over one of the West Conference favorites.  If Jefferson and Bell do sit, it will indeed be a tough, long game especially with the late start and the post-game early morning flight to Oakland for a game the next day.  The Clippers will be too much for Utah this time.

Jazz lose.

Golden State Warriors

Location: Oracle Arena – Oakland, California

Date: Thursday, February 2, 2012

Time: 8:30 PM   TV: Root Sports, NBA TV

The other day I got into a Twitter conversation with Diana Allen about Mark Jackson, head coach for the Warriors.  Without getting into it too much, she mentioned that Jackson was giving his team advice on camaraderie and we began to abuse him a little bit from his days here in Utah when he was trying to undermine Hall of Famer-to-be John Stockton.  One other side note, remember that the Jazz get their first round pick if it falls outside the top 7 picks, so this is a team most Jazz fans can find a reason to hate.

What to watch for:

Monta Ellis likes to chuck the ball up a lot during the game, averaging over 19 shots per game.  He and backcourt mate Stephen Curry shoot a combined 17.6 of 33.1 each game for 38.4 points per game.  Ellis is fast and he’s quick with a shot and he has the green light.  Hopefully Raja Bell will be back to put the clamp down on him defensively.  But I think the unsung player in this rotation is David Lee who is averaging a double-double and is second on the team is scoring.  This team doesn’t get a lot of stops though and consequently, they rely a lot on outscoring opponents to get a win.

Prediction:

The Jazz will be in bad spirits after losing two in a row and 3 of the last 4 and will be ready for this game.  Coach Corbin will have them shore up defensively and Paul Millsap should have a good game for the Jazz.  It will be close though because the Warriors are never truly out of the game until the final buzzer when they play the Jazz.

Jazz win.

Los Angeles Lakers

Location: Energy Solutions Arena – Salt Lake City, Utah

Date: Saturday, February 4, 2012

Time: 7:00 PM   TV: Root Sports, NBA TV

The second half of the LA Two-Step in Salt Lake City this week.  The Lakers have exactly two wins on the road this season.  Unfortunately, one was against the Jazz.  They are a miserable 2-7 on the road this season.  The Jazz will want to get revenge for last month’s OT loss when they should have won the game.

What to watch for:

You know this team: Kobe, Gasol, Bynum.  There isn’t anything you need to know or watch for: this is the Lakers.  Kobe will get his, so the question is, who gets to be the one who is abused this time around?  Last time, he went for  40 points during his 4 game 40 point scoring streak.  In December, he only scored 26, so which Kobe will show up?  This is game two of a back-to-back on the road and of a 6-game road trip for the Lakers.  Now is as good of a time as any for the Jazz to get one over the Lakers.

Prediction:

I think the Jazz will play with focus and purpose in this game.  January’s overtime loss will still be on their minds and the fans will be relentless while trying to push the team to victory.  It will be close, Kobe will get a lot of points as he always does in Utah, but I think the Jazz can win this one and I am predicting they will.

Jazz win.

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