Gameday: Jazz @ Raptors

Staring 1-6 in the face, the depleted Raptors need a win as Utah comes to town.

Writing this pre-game on Sunday night and at this point Kyle Lowry’s status for tomorrow’s game is uncertain, but sounds doubtful. Both Fields and Anderson will not dress as well, which leaves us stretched pretty thin at the 3, but we haven’t exactly been getting a lot out of anyone at that position so far this season. McGuire is going to get the start, and maybe Kleiza can use the extra minutes allotted to get his offensive game going after his layoff. If we can get Kleiza going sooner rather than later it’ll pay big dividends – right now we’re exceedingly short on scoring punch off the bench even at full strength, and he’s the one player outside of the starting 5 (besides Jose) who can generate his own offense on a regular basis.

The Utah Jazz make their way into town Monday night sporting a 3-4 record on the season, with the wins coming against a depleted Dallas (who admittedly has been playing well regardless), the lightly regarded Phoenix Suns, and the who-the-hell-knows Lakers. Yes, this was a playoff team last year, but it’s not much of a stretch to say that this was one of the games the Raps circled on their calendar when they were looking at that really tough 21 game stretch to start the season and said “we need the win here.”

This urgency should be even more present given the Raptors’ 1-5 start to the year, but to say effort has been inconsistent this year is an understatement at best, so I won’t go that far. Needless to say, this is a key game for the Raptors with road games at Indiana and Boston looming.

Positional Breakdown

Guard: Jose Calderon (starter), John Lucas and Kyle Lowry (injured) vs. Jamaal Tinsley (starter), Randy Foye, Alec Burks, Kevin Murphy, Mo Williams (injured – questionable), and Earl Watson (injured – out)

Advantage: Raptors

Obviously this list is subject to change given the amount of injuries on it. Both team’s starting point guards are injured and are key players for their respective teams. Mo Williams didn’t play for Utah in their Saturday game against the Suns and so I’m assuming he won’t play tonight, though the team hasn’t made any overtures in either direction yet. As for the players who are playing Monday night, I’m giving the advantage to the Raptors here primarily because of Jose, who’s the best “guard” on either team for the purposes of this exercise.

Jamaal Tinsley is primarily a distributor at this point in his career and began the season as the Jazz’s third option. He’s been known as a strong defender throughout his career, but is on the south side of his playing days, and Jose should be able to find openings for his perimeter shooting and distributive game. Tinsley’s offensive role this season has been limited to more or less facilitating for Utah’s stronger scoring options, and though he has been effective in that role (14 assists against the Suns Saturday), this reduced tendency to shoot or slash should minimize Jose’s defensive deficiencies at the position.

Randy Foye obviously has the ability to score in spurts and is a very good defender – he should be a good test for DeMar off the bench as a 2-guard and is in some ways a more problematic matchup for Jose at the 1, though it does seem like the Jazz prefer Tinsley to start. Lucas is a lottery ticket at this point, nothing more, nothing less. Hopefully sooner rather than later he can put together a strong offensive game and prove his value to the team.

Wings: DeMar DeRozan, Dominic McGuire (starters), Linas Kleiza, and Terrence Ross vs. Gordon Hayward, Marvin Williams (starters), DeMarre Carroll, and Jeremy Evans

Slight Advantage: Jazz

Again, looking at these matchups, it seems the Raptors have the superior player of the group in DeRozan, however, my giving the Jazz the advantage is largely due to our depleted 3 spot going up against Marvin Williams, who has been solid (if unspectacular) this season while putting up big minutes for Utah. The Jazz use a far more traditional NBA rotation (9 players or so, with the starters all playing 30-40 minutes) and so Williams should stay on the floor  for a good chunk of the game, assuming he avoids foul trouble, which he should with the offensively-limited McGuire starting opposite him. McGuire is a decent defender but Williams is more of an athletic stretch 4 than a small forward and so McGuire will have to work hard to stand his ground. Carroll and Evans are depth players and will only be out for garbage time minutes.

What the Raptors get from Ross and Kleiza on the offensive end is going to be crucial in keeping the Raptors in the game – the bench scoring was non existant on Saturday and that can’t happen today, especially with Utah having a depleted bench with little scoring punch at the guards/wings after Foye. Hayward will be a great test for DeMar on both ends – he’s developed into a very big, strong 2-guard that is great at getting into the lane and picking up fouls, which could be an issue given the Raptors’ lack of depth at the wings.

This is the kind of matchup DeMar should look at as a statement game – a perhaps less-heralded player who has the potential to stymie his game on both ends and bring the haters back out of the woodwork. Hopefully he’ll respond as his ability to get into the post (and to the line) will be key to combat Utah’s revolving door of top-tier big men.

Bigs: Andrea Bargnani, Jonas Valanciunas (starters), Amir Johnson, Ed Davis and Quincy Acy vs. Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson (starters), Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter

Advantage: Jazz

The Jazz have enviable frontcourt depth and multiple looks to throw at the Raps at this end – with the undersized Millsap and Jefferson starting and the more traditional Favors and Kanter coming off the bench. This team’s strengths are in its rotation of bigs and the Raptors are going to be hard-pressed to combat it, particularly Jefferson’s physicality in the post and Kanter’s size. They’ll have to work very hard to stay even in the rebound battle – the bigs can not take a quarter off in this one.

The Raptors desperately need Andrea to come through with a strong offensive game in this one – Millsap is an excellent defender but is undersized and should have difficulty defending Andrea’s mid-range game in particular. If he can get his shot going he can pull his defender away from the basket, opening lanes for slashers like DeRozan, Johnson, and even Val, who are going to have to bang with Utah’s bigs in the post otherwise, a losing proposition for Toronto. Jonas is going to be in tough tonight – this is the kind of matchup where his lack of strength is going to hurt him, though I am intrigued to see him match up against Kanter, who went 2 picks before him in the 2012 draft. This game has “Jonas foul trouble” written all over it, but I really hope Casey sticks to his guns and allows him to play through some of it, as that’s the only way he’s going to learn to deal with the bigs of the ‘Association. Utah is a great litmus test for any young big, and I’m excited to see how Jonas responds to the challenge.

Amir and ED, in whatever combination they’re employed (seems like it’s been mostly Amir lately) will need to work their butts off fighting through Utah’s physical front line. If they can hold serve with Favors and Kanter off the bench, this game is a lot more winnable for Toronto.

Line for the game is currently unavailable, I’m assuming due to the up-in-the-air status of both team’s starting point guards. Therefore, I’ll play it safe with my prediction.

Williams but no Lowry – Jazz win.
Lowry but no Williams (dare to dream!) – Raptors win.
Neither player plays (most likely) – Jazz by 3 by superior frontcourt depth.

This picks section has been a bit of a reverse jinx for Toronto the last few games, let’s hope it works the same the other way. Tip-off at 7:00PM EST on Sportsnet One.

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