So here we are finally, Jazz fans: the most important week of the Jazz season.
OK, so every week has been important for a little over a month now, but this truly stands as the FINAL important week of the season. If the Jazz don’t win these next three games, the season ends. Officially. Oh sure, plenty of games remain for the Jazz to compete – or at least let their youngins get some quality playing time – but Utah must win out. Seriously.
First up: Dallas.
The good news: the game takes place at Energy Solutions Arena and features a Mavs team that lost in OT to the Lakers earlier today. Also, Lamar Odom was excused off the team, making Dallas’ large front line slightly smaller (though still formidable).
The bad news: Dallas punk’d us this year. Bad. They beat us in all three previous match ups, winning 94-91, 116-101 and 102-96. Sure, the Jazz kept the game close in every contest, but couldn’t finish (what a shock). The Jazz played at full strength through all of those games, if I’m not mistaken.
So will we win? Eeesh. If someone can predict the outcome to this game, I will eat my spleen. This Jazz squad frustrates with their inability to stay consistent – it’s as if CJ Miles’ contagious disease spread throughout the locker room. But, as Hubie Brown would say (and has said time and time and time and time and time again): that type of play follows a young team around like a fly follows crap.
Utah has demonstrated consistency in at least one area, however, and that’s heart. That trait alone keeps them inkling towards an upset, which will happen so long as Gordy, Milsap and Jefferson go off for a combined 70 points. Our bench must step up – Favors, Kanter, Tinsley, Burks … everyone. Even Ahearn (who had a pretty good showing against Memphis the other night). No excuses at this point. The Jazz must defeat Dallas …
But can they?
Dallas wears a slew a veterans across its belt. Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Vince Carter, even Delonte West – all capable scorers. Then, of course, there’s the big guy himself: Dirk. He needs no last name (I don’t want to look it up either). Dirk went off for 40 points against the Jazz the last time these two teams matched up – and since all that stands between Dallas and the seventh spot is a half game, you can bet your bottom dollar that Dirk will show up to play. Hard.
The key to the game, though, is much deeper than three point shots and athleticism. The Jazz must play with confidence and energy right off the bat, and keep from dropping into a double digit hole. Sure, last time they crawled out of a 19-point deficit to make a game of it in the fourth quarter, but that was in March … this is crunch time, baby. Time to buckle up, or go home.
I will drop this prediction (and if I’m wrong, who cares): I feel like the Jazz will pull this off. Big Al and Hayward struggled in all three of the previous games against Dallas. But Hayward has grown a lot since then and has scored in double digits in 10 out of the last 11 games. Big Al’s game improved as well – he dishes the ball out a little better than he did a month ago, dishing out at least one assist in each of the last 16 games. In order for either of these two to be effective, though, they must play rough n’ tough basketball. No more avoiding contact – Jefferson must take it to Haywood, hard (a difficult task, this late in the season).
But the toughest match up falls on our MVP Paul Milsap. Sap must guard Dirk, who stands at least two inches taller. Big Al will share duties, as will Kanter and Favors (good luck with that), but Sap will carry the bulk of the load. The problem with this scenario is that Dirk can shoot a jump shot. Against slower centers who play with their backs to the basket, Sap and co. typically fare well. Against guys who can shoot the 10-foot jumper (like Kaman, for example), neither Sap, Big Al, Favors, or Kanter is quick enough to rotate on defense. And then, should Coach Corbin choose to double team Dirk, that leaves guys like Jason Terry and Kidd open on the 3-point line.
Like I said: tough, but with enough heart I think Utah can win. Just don’t bet your house on it.