Gordon Hayward attempts to block OJ Mayo's path to the basket during another ugly Jazz loss (Photo from NBA.com)

Jazz Mauled by Grizzlies - Playoff Hopes Dwindling

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Someone may want to let the good folks of Memphis Tennessee know that their Grizzlies are essentially playing playoff basketball in late March. Memphis is treating the rest of their season as playoff games in an attempt to hold onto their postseason hopes.

For a franchise that is 0 for 12 in 3 postseason appearances, and a city much like Salt Lake, where the only real professional game in town is the NBA, you would think the Fed Ex arena would have been jam-packed tonight. Apparently the residents of Memphis didn’t get the memo that the Jazz were in town for a crucial game tonight, and judging by the outcome the Jazz didn’t either.

Following an infuriating season long trend of slow starts due to turnovers, 19 total, and giving up too many offensive rebounds, 9 in the 1st quarter alone, Utah was blown out in Memphis 103-85. The loss, in front of a surprisingly half-empty arena, saw the Jazz fall 3 games behind the Grizzlies for the 8th and final Western Conference playoff spot.

Considering 9 of their final 11 games are against teams with better records than Memphis, Utah will more than likely miss the playoffs for just the 4th time in the past 28 seasons. Al Jefferson’s post-game comments echoed exactly how I’m sure Jazz Nation felt about the loss, “I ain’t talking… I ain’t got [poop] to say.” Meanwhile, Big Al’s High School English teacher undoubtedly just shuddered.

Derrick Favors 18 foot jumper actually gave Utah the lead midway through the first quarter, but a 30 to 13 Grizzlies run during a 10 minute span, put the Jazz in a hole they couldn’t dig their way out of. Utah’s offense stalled as players stood around and watched the Jazz try to feed Jefferson and Paul Millsap the ball down low, while on the other end of the court Memphis players gashed the Jazz interior defense for easy buckets. The Grizzlies, the league’s worst 3 point shooting team, eclipsed their season average of 3 point field goals made in the first half alone, capped by an O.J Mayo 3 pointer as the buzzer sounded.

The Jazz woes were compounded as both Favors and Devin Harris, the 2 players involved in the controversial Deron Williams trade, left the game with injuries. Andrei Kirilenko is clearly still suffering from his back problems and manged only 5 points in 17 minutes. Once again Raja Bell was given extended minutes (29), despite another poor offensive performance, 5 points on 2 of 7 shooting. He played more than either CJ Miles, 26 min, or Gordon Hayward 25 min, in spite of Hayward’s 8 points on only 4 shots including 2 for 2 from behind the 3 point line.

I realize coach Tyrone Corbin was put in a difficult situation when Jerry Sloan abruptly resigned during the middle of the season, yet his decisions on who gets minutes, and what player combinations are utilized on the court continue to be puzzling. Just once I’d like to see what a front court of Jefferson, Favors and Millsap could do, yet they haven’t played together. Perhaps they will get the opportunity to when the Jazz face the Lakers and their formidable front line of Gasol, Bynum and Artest.

About the only good news for the Jazz is the Nets lost at home to the Pacers and remain just 2 games in front of Toronto, meaning if the season ended today the Jazz would have the 6th and 12th picks in the June NBA draft. The 2 teams both have tough schedules remaining, and they face each other 1 more time in Toronto on April 10th.

I would love to see the Jazz end up with the 5th pick in the draft vs the 6th pick. There seems to be a consesus right now who the top 5 players selected in the draft will be, and all 5 could step in immediately and help the Jazz. I realize a lot can, and probably will, change between now and the draft on June 23rd. 

ESPN.com has a great lottery + mock draft tool you can check out by clicking here 

At this moment they have the Jazz picking 6th and taking 6-10 Turkish center Enis Kanter who they describe as lacking “athleticism and having a smallish frame.” He also hasn’t played in a real game in over a year, due to the NCAA, and sounds just like what the Jazz don’t need. With the 12th pick they have Utah selecting Jimmer. Could you imagine the eruption from the crowd if the Jazz took Jimmer?

The consensus top 5 picks at this moment are: Kyrie Irving of Duke, who could be the point guard of the future, but will likely be the #1 overall pick. Perry Jones of Baylor, who has guard skills wrapped up in a 6 ft 11 inch frame. He would fill the void if AK leaves via free agency.  My personal favorite is Harrison Barnes of N. Carolina who can score from anywhere on the court, and would fill a much needed wing spot. However, he probably couldn’t get minutes over Raja Bell in the current Jazz rotation. Jared Sullinger of Ohio State is the best low post scorer in the draft and is compared on the site to Millsap. Imagine a front court of Sullinger Favors Millsap and Big Al, that is sexy. Finally there is Derrick Williams of Arizona, he’s a versatile wing player and could fill multiple roles for the Jazz. Thus the importance of picking 5th instead of 6th. 4 of the 5 will be on display this weekend when March Madness resumes.

The Jazz have a solid core of players returning next season in Favors, Hayward, Jeremy Evans, CJ, Millsap, Big Al and Devin Harris, who is the oldest of the group at 28. Add 2 potential 2011 lottery picks, and 2008 draftee Ante Tomic (read about his most recent EuroLeague exploits compliments of our friends at SLC Dunk) who is being compared to Lakers star Pau Gasol, and you have 10 young, talented, and athletic players. Unfortunately, the Jazz have Raja Bell locked up for 2 more years after this season, but on the flip side Kirilenko’s Max Contract finally expires after this season.

So if the Jazz draft well, and can buy Tomic out of his contract, the first opportunity to do so is this summer, the Jazz rebuilding project may be very short. However, there are 11 more games, and a potentially ugly Owners vs Players labor dispute this summer to get through first. Let’s hope for a better display than what we saw in Memphis, when the Jazz take on Oklahoma City Wednesday night.

Also be sure to check out David Aldridge’s first, in a series of articles, profiling the top point guard prospects in the upcoming NBA draft. Jimmer anyone???

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Tags: Al Jefferson Andrei Kirilenko Ante Tomic CJ Miles Deron Williams Derrick Favors Derrick Williams Devin Harris Gordon Hayward Harrison Barnes Jared Sullinger Jeremy Evans Jerry Sloan Kyrie Irving Memphis Grizzlies New Jersey Nets Paul Millsap Perry Jones Raja Bell Toronto Raptors Tyrone Corbin Utah Jazz

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