Update: Boozer is out with a sprained ankle!
You ever open up a watch and look at its inside? What an instrument! What intricacy! All those gears rotating in a systematic fashion to perform one particular purpose. That’s what the Utah Jazz are to basketball. The Raptors are a little different, they’re like the twisted blunt rusty nail that can’t even penetrate the drywall which you end up throwing away in favor of some glue. The Jazz are my favorite team to watch because their whole is greater than the sum of their parts which is what a basketball team is supposed to be. They’re what I hope the Raptors someday become under the guidance of a brilliant coach and a GM that supports him.
The Jazz are playing with a purpose, they’re 6th in the Western conference in a pack where 1 game separates 5 teams vying for the third spot. The Raptors are playing out the season, have nothing on the line and have no reason other than personal pride to win any games. We are the second worst team in the East and the most disappointing in the entire league. So motivation at this point becomes the biggest factor and after the deflating loss to Miami, the rainy weather, and summertime around the corner, you can’t help but think that the players are starting to check out.
The only players I want to see on the court on Sunday are Roko, Banks, Pops, O’Bryant and Bargnani. The rest can go to hell, especially Jose Calderon and Jason Kapono, two players that make me cringe every time I see them with the ball or they show a close-up of their faces. Jose’s been so disappointing this season that you just hope he’s been playing at 20% all season long and the real Jose will come back next year. I don’t think he can handle summertime basketball and the Olympics combined with the full-time PG duties have thrown him a conditioning curveball. We need to shut him down ASAP and ensure that he doesn’t play for Spain in the summer. I believe he’s better than what he’s shown us this year. He has to be, it’s just that Colangelo (along with most fans) didn’t properly evaluate the impact of him playing in the Olympics. If we’re to play run ‘n gun next year Jose will have to be about 250% better than what he’s been this year when it comes to court-vision, pushing the ball and attacking the rim.
The Jazz have won – get this – 10 straight and 13 of 14 where they’ve beaten the Lakers, Celtics, Hornets, Nuggets and Hawks. Deron Williams has put up 10 straight assists in 11 straight games including 20 against Golden State this week. Most recently he went off for 25/11 against Billups who he held to 12/2 on 5-17 shooting. The Jazz are 7th in the ESPN rankings but I think they should be fourth ahead of the Magic, Spurs and Nuggets. The Jazz are kicking off a five game Eastern roadtrip where they’ll play Toronto, Indiana, Atlanta, Miami and Orlando. The Raptors have lost 4 straight and 6 of 8, most recently of course, they were humbled by Dwayne Wade at home.
The last time we played them they blew us out – Okur had a strong game and Harpring came off the bench to give them a boost by scoring 14 points on 6-9 shooting. He’s a type of player that you love to have on your team: gritty, hard-nosed and smart. But hey, we got our own version of Harpring coming back next year and its Delfino as Colangleo tries to recreate the magic of the 07-08 season.
The injury report for this one is quite thin with all hands available for the Jazz except some dude named Kyrylo Fesenko. Kris Humphries is out for the season. BTW, if there’s one Raptor I want to follow on Twitter, it’s him. I’m guessing his updates would be something like:
11:34 PM: “Smoking hot chick just walked in Lobby, let me see what I can do.”
11:36 PM: “She didn’t know who I was…worst part? She follows the Raptors.”
Marion: He appeared mentally out of it against the Heat which didn’t sit right with me, how much of that has to do with him being looked off twice early by Calderon is another matter. If a player like him cuts and doesn’t get the ball, he’ll cut again and if he doesn’t get the ball even though he’s got his hand up and is shouting, he’s not going to cut again. I’d still like to see him on next year’s team because in a good system he can be an awesome player. The question is whether he’s interested in waiting for that system to be build around him in Toronto. If I were him I’d definitely look elsewhere as there are greener pastures across the league who would gladly take him on if he’s willing to take the paycut which the Raptors will most definitely mandate. Colangelo and him had to have had private conversations about his future in Toronto or else this deal would not have been made. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out come the off-season but if I were to put money on it, I’d say he’ll be gone and it won’t be a slight against the city but the team.
Before we get to the starting matchups, check out who Utah brings off the bench: Andrei Kirilenko, Matt Harpring, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Price. You could make a case that we don’t have a singe player on the bench who is even equivalent to them. Pops was a good surprise off the bench against Miami and if he plays with the same hustle and energy, you could make a case for him to be on the bench as the 8th man next year ahead of Jawai, O’Bryant and Voskuhl. Then again, it’s one game and we have much bigger problems.
Calderon vs Williams
The Edge: Williams. Let’s see what Calderon can do to slow Williams down…hmm…nothing! Either we’ll have to help on every single possession or we could try and put Parker on Williams to minimize the damage. On offense, Jose’s been reduced to a player that’s only effective when his jumper is falling, and those are the worst kinds. I’d settle for Williams having an 18 point, 8 assist game.
Bargnani vs Okur
The Edge: Okur. You know how Dirk is what we want Bargnani to be? Okur is what we’d settle for. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, Okur’s averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds while shooting 50% from the field and 47% from three point line. Looking at their 82 Games pages (Bargnani, Okur) you’ll find that more of Okur’s points come from inside than Bargnani’s (30% vs 20%) which as a lot to do with him being a more efficient player in every aspect. I think that’s somewhere we’d like Bargnani to improve along with his rebounding, currently at 5.4. As for the matchup, Okur can be exploited on the perimeter but Utah’s help can offset any advantage Bargnani might gain off the dribble.
Parker vs Miles
The Edge: Even. Miles is another example of what you can find in the second round if you’ve done your scouting. He was the 34th pick in the ’05 draft and has started 56 games for the Jazz this season. Parker’s just been lit up by Wade and I don’t actually see him guarding Miles much as he’ll likely be switched to Williams. The Raptors just need to be cognizant of Miles’ slashing ability and whoever is guarding him (Joey, Parker, Marion) must be aware that he can take it to the rim and pass off of dribble-penetration. He’s very much a system-guy with limited offensive ability so you don’t expect him to go off and be the difference maker. Not: You get this when you look for CJ Miles images in Google.
Bosh vs Boozer
The Edge: Bosh. Boozer’s played 18 games in total this year and since returning he’s averaging 9.8 points and 11 rebounds over 6 games. Most recently, he’s had monster rebounding games of 17 and 16 against Houston and Denver. The last time Bosh and Boozer matched up Boozer ate him up by going 23/14 to Bosh’s 14/7 in a Jazz win. He’s also averaged 23.5 points and 13.0 rebounds in his last four meetings against us. I’m giving the edge to Bosh because Boozer’s coming back from injury and could be rusty enough laterally to provide Bosh a driving advantage (of course Bosh has to drive). Also, Bosh is coming off one his best games of the year and saw Watchmen on Saturday so he’s probably feeling like a superhero. Something tells me that I should switch this to Boozer since the last time Bosh was matched up against a half-decent PF, Scola got the better of him. The homer in me tells me to hang on to something positive.
Marion vs Brewer
The Edge: Marion. Brewer’s started all 60 games for the Jazz this season and has averaged 14/4, nice enough numbers for a guy that’s not asked to do much except what’s dictated by a structured Jazz system. He’s had 13 20+ point games this season so is liable to score when he’s slashing. They key to making him a non-factor is forcing him to shoot from outside – he’s a 26.7% three point shooter. I doubt that he’s actually undisciplined enough to take bad shots, though. Marion wins this matchup because he can exploit Brewer off the dribble and by using his unorthodox jump hook, he’s a good enough defensive player to make Brewer a non-factor while making some noise on the other end.
My pick from the Jazz dance team is Makinzee who wants to be a doctor and loves eating chocolate chip cookies. A man I trust once told me that Salt Lake City’s got a bad rep and is actually a very nice place with very nice girls, which is a prerequisite for any NBA city.
After incorrectly predicting that the Raptors would upset the Heat, I’m going with the Jazz covering the 5 1/2 point spread and continuing their hot-streak as the Raptors’ defense looks lost against Williams, Boozer and Okur. Unless we have super individual performances from three players, chalk up another L.