Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Allen tops 50, but Jazz top 76 (ers)

Last night Allen Iverson was spectacular. Dominant. Fearless. He stood out among his pears. He scored over 50 points for the 2nd straight game. Luckily, for that one night he was also a loser. I have not been the biggest Allen Iverson fan, but it was hard not to really appreciate what he was doing last night.

Thanks to Mehmet Okur's offensive rebound and two free throws with just over 4 seconds left, the Jazz snuck out of Philadelphia with a much needed two point win, 103-101. In case you missed it, Allen Iverson was terrific. This was not the way Iverson used to score 50 points, when he seem to need to take 40 shots, usually making less than half of them, didn't bother to pass the ball, and found defense to only be an optional requirement. Looking at Iverson's line, you see he made 18 of 31 shots, 4 of 6 three pointers, 6 assists, and 7 steals before fouling out at the end.

For the Jazz a few things to note-
  • For a coach who years ago was accused of being predictable and stubborn with his rotation, Jerry Sloan is showing a split personality. You can barely predict who will start, and you can almost never guess who will play. He is working very hard to field a productive team at all times and with 4 different point guards who have yet to be healthy and consistent, its been a challenge. Last night for instance, Raul Lopez started at point guard and picked up two quick fouls, appearing to have no confidence against Iverson. Lopez was forced to the bench just two minutes into the game and never returned.
  • Jazz starting center Aleksandar Radojevic attempted 3 shots and missed them all. This is significant in that he is 7'3" and all three were blocked.
  • The Jazz record improved to 11-15. I think most fans are frustrated and disappointed at this point. It must be said, that for a team that thrives on playing 'team' basketball that requires organization and execution on both ends of the floor, it looks like we've all underestimated the challenge of bringing so many new teammates together. How many new faces??? Counting the players on the injured list, the Jazz have 7 players who were not with the club last year. Also, of the guys who were with the team last year, 3 of them missed all or most of last season with injuries (Harpring, Lopez, and Borchardt) and two players, Arroyo and Kirilenko, who were counted on to stabilize things from last year have not due to injuries and inconsistency.
For now the Jazz will have to settle for a few moral victories and take the Ws when they can get them. If they can stay in the playoff hunt, the talent they have pooled could still be dangerous later in the season. That said, last night's victory was good and was worth the price of admission for the good folks in Philly.
(AFP/Getty Images/File/Jamie Squire)

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Still searching for answers and a win, Jazz drop to 8-11

The Jazz lost last night to the Orlando Magic, 106-100. The loss was the 6th in a row for Utah, and 8th in the their last 10 games. Players are frustrated and having trouble offering much in the way of an explanation or solution.

Some have tied the string of losses to when Carlos Arroyo returned from injury, thus effecting the Jazz's chemistry and the substitution rotation. Carlos, has not been playing well, but I don't that is the biggest reason.

Others have blamed the lack of defense by the Jazz. First they blamed the interior defense that was allowing opponents to get too many lay-ups. Lately they've questioned perimeter defense for allowing a barrage of three pointers as Cuttino Mobley and Damon Jones have each hit seven three pointers in the last two games. I think defense is a huge part of the problem so I agree to this point, but its more than that.

It stands out to me like a sore thumb. Ok, well actually a sore knee. Andrei Kirilenko injured his knee early in a game against San Antonio on November 27th. The Jazz went on to lose that game and the next 5 games. Not only have the Jazz yet to win since AK went out of the line-up, they have allowed the opponent to score over 100 points in each ball game. So can one, tall skinny, ball player make that much of a difference?

I don't argue the Jazz would have won all six of those games with a healthy Kirilenko. To be honest, four of those six teams are considered to be the very best this league has to offer. But AK brings defense with blocked shots and steals, he brings fast break baskets, he brings offensive rebounds and at least a couple spectacular plays per game. Further, he is the one player on the Jazz who you never see get intimidated or lose confidence. This is the man that got slammed to the ground by Shaq, only to go face up to him later in the game so Shaq could do it again. Fearless, confident, and not willing to back down. A little big of Andrei could go along way towards picking up this young team and giving them the attitude to deal with the good and bad.

The bad news is that Andrei isn't expected back anytime soon. I've heard nothing definitive, but I suspect it will be at least another two weeks. For a team that desperately needs veteran leadership, it can't happen soon enough.