Injuries, injuries, and more injuries: Just revealed today, starting small forward Josh Howard is out for the remainder of the season with yet another knee injury, officially diagnosed on Monday as a chip in his left lateral femoral cartilage. Howard had recently worked his way into the starting rotation and those minutes seem all but guaranteed to go to second year man, Gordon Hayward. Also out for tonight’s game against Oklahoma City are Raja Bell and Earl Watson. Bell is still dealing with his adductor strain and Watson is still working through that nasty ankle roll from last week. CJ Miles is expected to pick up the minutes. While the missed games by Utah’s core of veterans will certainly hurt the team in the short term, the minutes being allocated to the younger guys will be beneficial over the long run.
The Youth Movement: In Utah’s past five games, the young guns (Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, and Enes Kanter) have picked up some serious slack on this team, providing both offensive and defensive sparks. Defensively, the Jazz turned in their 5th and 7th best defensive performances of the season in the past two games. Offensively, this core group has scored 36.3% of the points over the previous five games, shot over 53% from the field. They have added over 20 rebounds, nearly 4 assists, and about 1.5 blocks and steals per game as a group over the same span. The performance on both ends of the court by Kanter between the 3rd and 4th quarters was straight marvelous to behold.
I’ve advocated all season that the young guys need to play, but I have to agree to a degree with Salt Lake Tribune’s Kurt Kragthorpe: Coach Corbin has brought them along about as well as they could have been brought along. For additional thoughts, check out Steven’s post from earlier today.
Winning Now – Pros and Cons: Again, thanks to Kragthorpe, I learned something today I didn’t know. What I do know: the Jazz stand to inherit the Golden State Warriors’ first pick this June provided they don’t fall into the top 7 picks after the lottery is sorted out. What I didn’t know: the Jazz’s top pick is protected only through the lottery. If the Jazz make the playoffs, they stand to lose not only one, but possibly both picks this June. So the question you have to ask yourself as a Jazz fan, do you want to make the playoffs, circle a date on your calendar for the end of April to play 4 or 5 games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and then watch what the Jazz do in the off season with no picks, or are a possible pair of lottery picks more intriguing to you?
Well Jazz fan, which is it?
Oklahoma City Thunder
Location: Energy Solutions Arena – Salt Lake City, UT
Date: Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Time: 7:00 PM TV: Root Sports
As noted previously, Josh Howard, Raja Bell, and likely Earl Watson are unavailable for this game. CJ Miles is expected to replace Bell once again in the starting five. I would expect Gordon Hayward to go in lieu of Howard. Center Al Jefferson returns after missing the past two games while attending his grandmother’s funeral.
The Thunder roll into town leading the west by 4 games, having won 6 of their past 10 games. The Jazz are riding a winning streak of 3 in a row and 4 of the past 5. Can the recent success, especially on the Lakers home floor give the Jazz the edge they need?
What to watch for:
This team is all about Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and a bevy of talented players that have their goals set on winning an NBA championship this season. The Jazz will go back to Big Al in the middle, but if the team starts to lag or bog down with the big man in there, will Coach Corbin keep forcing the square peg or will he finally ride the hot hand and get Favors, Kanter, and Burks the playing time they’ve earned over the past several games?
I think the Jazz are going to dip back to -1 in the home/road win/loss column that play-by-play announcer David Locke is convinced is the telling stat to the Jazz making the playoffs. The Jazz just don’t have the experience yet to contain a Kevin Durant or the talent to guard Russell Westbrook. It would take a Kobe-esque 3-20 from one or both of these All-Stars for the Jazz to win tonight.