Super Bowl Hangover Reading: Raptors vs. Jazz pre-game

A list of 10 things to look for in tonight’s game against Opie and the Jazz.

1. As a numbers person, this game looks like a reliable win on paper. As a degenerate gambler, this game worries me. The Raptors just put up two high-energy performances against tough teams in one of the most difficult back-to-back road scenarios in the league this season: the Denver-Portland combo. That Portland loss was gruelling. And then last night was the Super Bowl, an event for which people have been known to celebrate, from time to time. Now the Raptors are playing their 3rd road game in 4 days at 1,288 ft. above sea level. And this is a Raptors team who has been known to let their guard down against lesser-billed opponents (see: Horbobnetcats, Charlotte). I’m not saying that I would take the Jazz in this game, but the irrational-superstitious-conspiracy theorist gambler inside me is very nervous about taking the Raps.

2. In my brain, where imagination is more of an epidemic than a pastime, I can’t watch a Utah Jazz game without thinking that Gordon Hayward is a grown-up Opie Taylor from the Andy Griffith show. Hayward is and always will be Opie to me. I hear that stupid whistling theme song every time he drives to the basket. Now, some of you are probably wondering to yourselves, ‘”How it is that a 27-year old grew up watching a black and white show that was cancelled in 1968?” Others amongst you may be thinking “Is he really investing this much time in a 50-year old pop culture reference for a website with an audience of 18-40?” Even more of you are surely asking yourselves, “Where in the hell is he going with this?”
I do not have answers for any of you.

3. Making it through to the all-star break without anybody getting injured or aggravating any existing injuries they’re playing through is always a focus at this time of the year, heading into the all-star break. It’s about to become the go-to time filler for bad TV commentators to start repeating ad nauseam. But for this Raptors squad to keep their push going through the second half of the season, especially with Brooklyn putting things together, they are really going to have to find a way to get lucky and stay healthy. Everybody’s got sprains and bruises, soreness and swelling that they’re going to need a chance to let heal over the all-star break. Hey look, bad online writers can do it too!

4. For anyone in Canada without NBA League Pass, this is probably your first chance since the NCAA national title game to see the Trey Burke intrigue in person. He’s been well worth the watch on most nights this season.

5. Enes Kanter vs. Jonas Valanciunas is a fascinating matchup to watch for those of us obsessed with young, developing Eastern-European big men. Kanter has taken a step back in an expanded role with the Jazz this season, while Jonas has looked impressive at times and tentative at others in a fluctuating role this season. Valanciunas has the clear leg up in shooting and footwork, while Kanter has more aggression and strength in gaining position. I’m still buying stock in Valanciunas and selling it in Kanter, but that’s just me. Both men will have a chance to go at each other in the post tonight. Watch how Valanciunas builds in to his moves with his footwork in comparison to how Kanter handles his touches. Then watch both battle for position on rebounds and judge the quality of the shots they’re able to make for themselves, regardless of whether or not they go in. Then compare. We’ll take up the results for our homework in class tomorrow and see if Big Val doesn’t come out ahead.

6. Matchups: The starting lineups are smiling upon the Raptors at every spot except for Amir Johnson’s ankle. Amir is the perfect player to keep pace and bruise bodies with Derrick Favors, but his injuries have slowed him down notably as of late. Valanciunas is much better suited to match up against the slower-footed Kanter. Chuck Hayes should see some time off the bench to wrestle Favors on the block, but he’s going to need some wily veteran moves to keep the much more dynamic Favors off of the offensive glass.

7. Tyrone Corbin is, by my own opinion, perhaps the most baffling coach in the league. He has a young team, anchored by two powerful and more importantly athletic bigs, led by a rookie point guard and playing in an elevated climate with the dream scenario of having every 3rd team they play at home being in one half of a back-to-back against Denver. So naturally, it makes all of the sense in the world to play at a near league-slowest pace. Because utilizing the one and probably only possible advantage at your disposal would just be altogether too rational.

8. There is usually at least one aspect of the game that even very bad teams excel at. One shining bright spot, team strength or point of coaching emphasis that comes through on the box score. Be that defensive rebounding, 3pt shooting, turnovers, pace, opponent efg% or something. The Jazz are a fascinating team in that there is no meaningful team stat in which they are not in the bottom third of the NBA in. Kudos to you, Utah lottery pick.

9. Utah looked like it made perhaps the most brilliant, if not the most obvious, tanking for a lottery pick strategy of all time trade when they took on the albatross contracts of Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson from Golden State in exchange for draft picks AND declared an intention of playing both guys. Turns out they would have been better (or, technically, worse) off signing OJ Mayo and Larry Sanders instead. Reality can be tough to make sense of sometimes when up suddenly becomes down and 1+1=9.

10. DeMar DeRozan is shooting a better percentage from 3 this season (31%) than John Lucas III is (29%). To say that such a statement sounded ridiculous a year ago is an understatement. Sure, 31% isn’t exactly something to celebrate. Sure, the Portland game made it clear that point guard depth is an issue again this season. But John Lucas III, the third point guard I, and I hope, we, were all so excited to see fade off in to the sunset last summer is shooting 29% from 3, getting scored on like he’s playing NBA Jam and putting up a -8.8 on/off rating on one of the 3 worst teams in the entire league. It’s the little things in life.

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