Get ready for an epic clash as the Jazz face off against arguably the best team (or duo) in the NBA tonight at Energy Solutions Arena. The game will mark the only time in this shortened season that Utah will have to face LeBron James and Dwayne Wade (playing for the second game in a row without forward Chris Bosh), which is probably a good thing if you’re a Jazz fan.
Utah (16-18) has the chance to win two games in a row for the first time since the end of January, when they beat the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trailblazers back-to-back. Ah, how things have changed. The Jazz were 12-7 after the win against Portland, but went on to have a disastrous month of February, winning just four games out of 15 (thank God for Leap Day). Make no mistake: the Jazz are in a pickle, but they still command a lot of respect in the league. Most of those February losses, after all, came with seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. And more often than not, the opposing team had to pull off a miracle bucket in order to seal the victory (as was the case with, among others, the San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves).
The Jazz are by no means out of playoff contention, despite their current position in the Western Conference standings. Heck, they’re only two games behind eighth seed Denver, and three and a half behind seventh seed Memphis. Of course, things aren’t going to get easier for our boys in Purple and Blue – the next five games has them facing off against four playoff bound teams. Ouch!
And of course, there’s always Miami.
The last time these two teams faced off, Miami defeated Utah 111-98. The time before that was the game which proved Paul Milsap could fly. Throwing down some impossible three point buckets late in the fourth quarter, Milsap secured a 116-114 overtime victory IN MIAMI and had the entire state of Utah dancing on the moon. At that time the Jazz roster consisted of guys like Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko, who are now, for lack of a better word, dead to most Utahns.
Tonight’s game should be interesting, as
the Delta Center Energy Solutions Arena will most likely sell out and consist of “signage”, as Matt Harpring likes to say. Miami has a nice following, but not nearly as much as LA, so I don’t expect many cheers whenever the self proclaimed King James lays down a shot (before high fiving all of his teammates and moonwalking to the other side of the court with arms raised as though beckoning all to worship his presence). Utah is athletic enough to keep up with Miami, and, as stated before, carries a deep enough bench to give us a slight advantage. Then again, I have no idea who will guard Lebron, or Wade for that matter (if it’s Gordon Hayward, may God have mercy on his soul). Let’s face it, they’re a lot better this year and a tad more confident (it helps to have the always likeable Shane Battier), if that’s even possible.
James has more or less taken over the team and is currently averaging 27.7 points per game, 8.2 rebounds, and 6.8 assists. He may suck in the NBA Finals, but he excels during the regular season.
Wade, meanwhile, is averaging just 22.8 points per game, his lowest average since his rookie season. He plays better as a second option than a first, in my humble opinion, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of lighting up a team on any given night.
Utah carries a nice advantage in the paint where our numerous big guys (lookin at you Kanter, Milsap, Favors and Jefferson) will have to play against … Joel Anthony. The key for the Jazz to win lies in how well they close down the paint and prevent James and Wade from getting easy drives to the basket. It would also be nice to see CJ Miles (our unofficial X-factor) play two solid games in a row. I expect Coach Ty Corbin to slow the tempo down drastically so as not to instigate a footrace, which means Big Al needs to be BIG AL (as opposed to his alter ego Lazy Malone) and score 25-30 points.
The Jazz CAN win this game, but everyone needs to step up and play to their potential – including you Devin Harris. I know most of us want to trade you, but tonight we need your A-game! I’m talking 18 points, 10 assists and absolutely no turnovers. Watson needs to break out of his current shooting funk and rally his team the way he did against LA those many moons ago. Tinsley needs to keep cheering on the bench.
I really think it comes down to fast break points tonight. If the Jazz can force Miami into a slower tempo half court game with the occasional zone coverage, and then pound the ball inside on the offensive end, they have a good chance at sneaking off with a win.