Thursday, March 10, 2005

Utah Jazz Blog moves to MVN

The Utah Jazz Blog has moved! I've joined the Most Valuable Network (MVN) and started All That Jazz. MVN has been known as one of the best pro baseball sites on the net, but they are ambitious and growing into coverage of the other top sports.

I'm still writing. I'm still going to offer opinions, humor and statistics about the Jazz and the NBA, while seeking your opinions. So Click here to read All That Jazz. I'm excited for the move and to be apart of the growing MVN team. Hope to see you there!



Friday, March 04, 2005

Arroyo is gone, but the talk continues

They say the month of March comes "in like a Lion"......instead I think I'll come in with "I hate to whine about the whiners who are whining about old news, but I can't resist, and must get it off my chest so I'll beat it to death with a big stick".

Therefore, my Whiney Sports Mumbling Rant...

I keep reading articles in the Salt Lake Papers about Carlos Arroyo and how the Jazz miss him and how great he is doing for Detroit (reference, Jo-Ann Barnas article for Detroit Free Press picked up and ran in Salt Lake this week). I've even read opinions sent in to the newspapers and other online sites by fans who hate the trade of Arroyo and are mad at the Jazz and mad at Coach Sloan in particular. The point they are missing, and missing, and missing (they could stop shooting and missing at that point, but since Carlos hasn't stopped, why should they), and Detroit is asking him to be a part-time helper. In Detroit he is a back-up and averaging only 18 minutes per game. In Utah, the Jazz thought he was the man who could embrace the team's philosophy, lead the team, play heavy minutes (35 per game), and basically make those around him better. Truth is, he did not play well this year, despite the contract and faith the Jazz put in him. Truth is, he got on the wrong side of Coach Sloan, and while some of that may have been Jerry's fault and this league at times may be run by the players, the Jazz never have been. He was woefully immature and continues to complain that no one talked to him, as if, Carlos had no idea where Coach Sloan's office was. I for one am tired of reading his quotes and tired of all the fans who continue to push this side of things. Its a team game, but Carlos chose to make it about him and didn't like the result. I've said a million times...I'd rather lose with the right guys than win with the wrong ones. If it took giving in to a player who demanded kid gloves and special treatment to win, I'd rather lose. Is Carlos a bad guy? Whoa, that's not the point. I liked Carlos and enjoyed the good times while he was here, but unlike great players in this league he didn't fight through adversity. He isn't as valuable as people make it seem, and to hint that he means more to the Jazz than Sloan (as many have done) is idiotic.

To Carlos I say,
"take care Carlos, may you end up better than the other guys who left thinking they could do better outside the Jazz system (see: Shandon Anderson, Howard Eisley, DeShawn Stevenson, etc) . I'd like to send some of your Utah fan supporters with you, but you know how they are...fickle, as soon as they see that the grass isn't greener, they'll be bagging on you in no time."
My guess is with the recent improvement of the Jazz and Keith McLeod, and Arroyo's failure to really change the fact that only 5-6 guys on the Pistons really carry the load, that this issue will die down. Come next summer when the Jazz have the money from the Arroyo contract to spend elsewhere and an extra first round draft pick, people will be glad the Jazz held to their principles and really evaluated the situation for what it was.

In the spirit of statistical overkill, and to convince those that still wish to argue the over value of Carlos Arroyo, I offer the numbers below (thanks to the for the +/-). The result is that both teams, Utah and Detroit, have been better while Carlos is on the bench.

+/- points
Carlos in Utah (this year): -7.3
Carlos in Detroit: -6.4
Keith McLeod (Utah Starter): +2.5
Chauncey Billups (Detroit Starter): +4.9

Shooting %
Carlos in Utah (last year): 44.1%
Carlos in Utah (this year): 40.1%
Carlos in Detroit: 39.0%

Minutes Played - per game
Carlos in Utah (last year): 28.3 mins
Carlos in Utah (this year): 24.7 mins
Carlos in Detroit: 18.7 mins

To assert that Arroyo and his 39% shooting and 18 minutes per game is the reason, or even a critical influence, for Detroit's hot streak (winning 8 of 10) makes only slightly more sense to me than heaping extra praise on the hot dog vendors at Auburn Hills. I mean yes technically they are there, and yes in some remote way they are making an impact on the things inside the building, but its really only a coincidence that they are associated with the Pistons at a time when they are rolling.

Whew, all better now. Until the next article...

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Jazz Shoot Down Hawks, Push Win Streak to 3

The Utah Jazz did in fact shoot down the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night, thanks to 51.5% shooting. But, to be honest, these poor birds are falling pretty hard on their own.

With the 96-74 victory the Jazz have won three in a row for the first time since the opening games of the season. A combination of the Jazz feeling a little bit better about themselves, mixed with the road weary Hawks, meant for the first time in a very long time, there appeared to be a team that Jazz completely overwhelmed. To be fair, Atlanta is one of the worst teams in the league, have lost their last 10 games, is now only 2-28 on the road, and was missing point guard Tyronn Lue because of suspension.

Despite beating the very beatable Hawks, the Jazz should feel good because....
  • They are starting to more consistently play the team style game they are known for. Numbers speaking to that cause in this game: no player took more than 11 shots, Jazz assisted on 25 of their 35 field goals, 3 players had 5 or more assists, and 5 guys scored in double figures.
  • The Jazz defended Atlanta well, holding the Hawks to 35 % shooting and blocked 9 Atlanta shots. Atlanta's two most aggressive offensive players, Josh Smith and Al Harrington combined to shoot 8-34. That includes at least two of Josh Smith's shots that were a layup and a dunk.
  • Keith McLeod had some foul trouble but in limited minutes was solid again: 10 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and only one turnover. In addition two of his baskets where difficult shots to beat the shot clock.
  • Matt Harpring who tweaked his knee in the last game, could have taken a night off and the Jazz won without him. The modern day player absolutely sits in this game. Harpring however, isn't a free ride kind of player, so he suited up and scored 11 pts and 6 rebs in only 23 minutes. In the era of Stockton, Malone, and Hornacek the Jazz key players were known for showing up and getting the job done despite physical ailments of all kinds.
Atlanta is missing at least 3 critical pieces. They need some veteran players, but in specific places. They don't have a point guard, and even Tyronn Lue when healthy shouldn't be considered the answer. They don't have a low post presence on either defense or offense and the ideal situation is to have something down low on both ends, but they at least need the defense and rebounding. They need an outside shooter to commands a little respect. Now the Hawks are certainly no unique in these needs, but its almost painful how glaring these are. On the bright side, they will have cash for the free agent market. They will have another high draft pick, that they might want to consider dealing for a needed veteran. They have coach that some people around the league seem to think has potential in Mike Woodson. And, the Hawks have three improving playmaking type of players in Al Harrington, Josh Smith, and Josh Childers. Unfortunately, in the NBA when you have so many weaknesses you get exposed.

Jazz Notes:
Carlos Boozer was put on the injured list, meaning he will miss at least 5 games with the injured foot. The Jazz will replace him on the roster with PG Randy Livingston, who will be signed to a 10 day contract from the CBA. This will be the 8th NBA team for Livingston. If you are a diehard, see how many you can name on your own without peaking at the list. When you are ready to peak, read Randy's bio by clicking here.

Up next, the Jazz travel to New Orleans to play the Hornets on Friday night. A win would be Utah's 4th in a row. The Hornets have a young point guard that I think has a future in Dan Dickau, and have just added Speedy Claxton as a backup. You can read this Hornets Blog for a little background on New Olreans.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Jazz Nearly Clipped, but escape 87-86

The Utah Jazz won their second straight game. It's been since January 10th and 12th that the Jazz had won two in a row. A more staggering figure, is the fact that the Jazz are going for their 3rd straight win Wednesday against Atlanta, and that is something the Jazz haven't done since the first 3 games of the season.

The game against the LA Clippers counts as a win. It dropped the Clippers to 1-27 in the Delta Center. However, Bobby Simmons rushed a layup that missed as the final buzzer sounded that could have given LA a big win. The Jazz were clinging to a one point lead, when Keith McLeod missed two free throws after making his first 12 on the night. Despite having a foul to give, and thereby stop the Clippers, the Jazz allowed them to nearly win it at the buzzer. You could look at this game and say the Jazz nearly lost. The truth is, the Jazz made several key plays and free throws in the fourth quarter that created the win. Did it nearly go away? Sure, but that fact has to be credited to the Clippers for scrapping throughout the game and then making two long difficult jumpers in the waning seconds of the game.

Things to note:
  • Keith McLeod is looking more and more like a young player that could develop into something good. He posted a career high 18 points to go with 8 assists and 12-14 free throws. You could hear it in Jazz assistant coach Phil Johnson's voice, how much they like the effort this kids is bringing. Watch for a profile on McLeod to come in the next few days.
  • Rookie Kris Humphries posted a career high 12 rebounds, including 5 on the offensive end. In his last game, he posted 6 offensive rebounds. Kris is showing that he is grasping some concepts that will get him more playing time.
  • Elton Brand posted only 10 points on the night, on 4-13 shooting. Maggette scored 16 points, but only took 8 shots from the field. Brand and Maggette are two players the Jazz tried hard to sign a year ago, only to have offer sheets matched by the Clippers. They both have immense talent and would benefit by having a point guard to get them the ball.
  • Congrats to Jerry Sloan who moved into 7th place all time on the NBA's all time win list, with victory #936. Jerry will keep moving up, as Bill Fitch and Red Auerbach can both be passed with another 6-7 wins.
  • Matt Harpring tweaked his knee and the final outlook isn't known. Its sounding like a sprain that could put him day to day, which would be good knews given the rampant injury issues for the Jazz this year. Carlos Boozer remains out for the Jazz, who are hopeful he'll return any day.
  • The Jazz and Clippers combined to attempt only 8 three point FGs, making 4, which is a rarity in today's game.
  • In a post game locker room interview, Corey Maggette responding to some of the issues the Jazz have faced this year, commented, "The Jazz have no real go-to guy....". A pretty fair assessment, as the Jazz have filled the roster with a bunch of good players, but are waiting for one to step up. When healthy, you can see Boozer taking a stab at it, and day by day, young Keith McLeod seems more comfortable creating under pressure.
Up next, those mighty Atlanta Hawks. If you want to get a peak at a Hawks blog ahead of time, go here.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Jazz Find Rhythm in Houston

Thanks to a big fourth quarter from Raja Bell, Mehmet Okur, and Matt Harpring, the Utah Jazz surged past the Houston Rockets for a 99-92 victory in Houston Sunday afternoon.

The Jazz have had trouble in the 4th quarter of games. Coming into the Houston game, Utah was 6-21 on the road. Starting the 4th quarter with a tie score seemed to be pointing the direction of many games this year. Good effort, but not good enough to win. Instead of wilting, Memo scored 9 points in the 4th Quarter, Bell 7, and Harpring 8 as the Jazz seemed to either make every shot or get an offensive rebound on each miss in the fourth quarter. There were a couple of 'you had to see it' type shots in the fourth quarter as well. One was a reverse by Kirilenko, when he got caught under the backboard he reached his long arm out and quickly flipped it back into the basket. He made it look almost effortless, but the truth is there aren't many guys in the league who could have done it. Moments later, Mehmet Okur drove the baseline and was fouled hard, but with a showing of great strength, flipped it over his head with his left hand and into the basket. The Jazz took advantage of a couple of bounces and combined that with beating the Rockets in the effort and energy departments of rebounding and defense.

For the Rockets, McGrady was terrific in the first quarter, but didn't have as much pep over the final three quarters. The new guy Mike James played hard till then end and scored 19 points, making just enough 3-pointers in the 4th quarter to keep the Rockets within shouting distance. Perhaps I miss something, but I just don't understand why a 7'6" player like Yao Ming only gets 10 shot attempts against the Jazz who don't have a player over 6'11". Is Yao not aggressive enough in demanding the ball or getting position? Or is it, what appears to be a team that overall has questionable shot selection and doesn't appear to be running an offense most of the time? I know that normal point guard Bob Sura was out with an injury, so perhaps that was the problem in lack of offensive sets and touches for Yao. Lets hope so.

On this Day in the NBA- Houston Style: Feb 28, 1981 Calvin Murphy set the record for most consecutive made free throws with 78 (against San Diego). This record was later broken by Michael Williams of Minnesota and pushed all the way to 97 (in 1993). Murph still holds the record for highest FT percentage for a season at .958 (1980-81 season).

There is also a great write-up of this game in the Houston Chronicle (click the link), that includes sharp comments by McGrady, Jon Barry, and Van Gundy. Also, in keeping with the trend of looking for the best blogs for the opponent, I point you to the Houston Rockets Fan Blog.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Jazz Win.....the 1st half. Celts take game 109-102

The Utah Jazz are very disjointed right now. There is no other way to look at it. The effort is there more times than not, but the lack of a consistent line-up mainly due to health issues, means this team just hasn't come together.

Things were going pretty well...for the first half. The Jazz enjoyed a 55-49 lead over Boston, and with all the jump shots you'd expect the likes of Pierce, Walker and Davis to jack-up in the 2nd half you could easily see this lead ballooning with easy lay-ups coming off the fast break. However, this season has been anything but predictable, but then again maybe something is predictable. Vanishing leads. The Celtics while still firing jumpers all over the court, also found their way into the lay too easily, too often and for too many easy shots. So many times have the Jazz had the lead going into the fourth quarter, only to see the lead disappear. The loss dropped the Jazz to 17-37 on the season, and marked the 10th time the led after three quarter of play.

There is a terrific detailed write-up of this game and pretty much everything concerning the Celtics on the Boston Celtics Blog.

Speaking of the Celtics, it is really hard to figure out where they are going. I think many people, myself included, tend to think Danny Ainge is a sharp guy who has a good chance at fixing things in Beantown. But, the trade to get back Antoinne Walker seems odd. At least in the short run, you bring back an erratic, selfish player, to a team that is trying to make a playoff run in the Eastern Conference. I wouldn't want this guy anywhere near my young players. He is often a poster-child for "things I don't want to see done" and I'd hate for some of his shot selection decisions to rub-off on any of those talented youngsters. Even in this victory against the Jazz, with the Celtics clinging to a 3 point lead, Walker hoisted a long three point attempt that missed and allowed the Jazz a lay-up on the other end to cut the lead to one, with 35 seconds left. It all worked out, because the Jazz had to foul and the Celts made all their free throws to widen the final score. In the long run, the Walker trade may have merit. The Celtics will have created salary cap room after this season is over and can use it to get someone who fits into their long-term plans better than Antoinne Walker and the departed Gary Payton. There is rumor that Payton will get waived by Atlanta and could end up back in Boston. If that works out the trade gets a hair better for the Celtics in the short run.

Positives in this game for the Jazz: Andrei Kirilenko scored 29 points and tried to assert himself. Perhaps over-asserted in the 4th quarter as he broke the offensive execution and went his own way a few times. However, for a team lacking stars and someone to step forward, I didn't see it as a complete negative. Another promising note, is Keith McLeod's attitude and the way he competes to the end. Still McLeod with 3 assists and 4 turnovers, still needs to execute the offense better and use his ability to break down a defense to create easy shots for this teammates. Offensively the Jazz were fine, but to allow the Celtics to come into the Delta Center and shoot 52% is hard to overcome.

Up Next: Jazz in Houston on Sunday, Feb 27th.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Mavericks make themselves at home in Utah

The Dallas Mavericks are thriving on the road. They are good at home, but they are terrific on the road. As they push toward the playoffs, I might suggest they drop the name Dallas and just go with "Mavericks", start staying in hotels even when they play home games in Dallas, and ask the fans who fill American Airlines Center in Dallas to boo them now and then for motivation.

How good are the Mavericks on the road? After beating the Jazz 101-83, Dallas is now 19-7 on the road. That ties the Mavericks with Seattle and Phoenix for the fewest road losses this season. How impressive is a 19-7 road record? As of now, only 8 teams in the NBA have a winning road record. Six in the Western Conference and only two in the East.

Something rare to note, Dallas and Phoenix are the only two teams in the league with better road records than home records. Both teams are good at home, but they really crank it up on the road.

Making an effort? Local papers contend the Jazz were still on vacation and weren't making of an much effort. I have a hard time agreeing with that angle. That is nothing more than kicking a young dog while he is down. The Jazz did endure their worst shooting night of the season at 30.7%, but played even on the boards and blocked some shots. Dallas is a good team, and while Utah was somewhat out of sync, battling injuries, and out-matched on talent, I don't think it was simply a lack of effort.

Some quick shots....
  • Dirk Nowitzki is terrific. I worried in his younger years he would become a big guy content to bomb three pointers and skip playing defense, passing, or even attempt driving to the hoop. Credit Dirk for growing his game. Last night he posted 29 points while having an off shooting night (7-21), because he drove to the hoop and drew fouls (15-16 FT). I even saw him play some good defense and he picked up 8 rebounds. He is worth the price of admission and does much to dispel the stereotype of soft euro players.
  • Seeing Raul Lopez gone for the season with injury gave me an idea for the ultimate solution. Bring back John Stockton. Okay, it would never happen and we love John too much to put him through this kind of a season, but think of the benefits to young Keith McLeod of watching Stockton. In addition, Carlos Boozer would get to see what it could be like with passes coming at the right time and right place, not to mention cross screens in the lane that would actually get him some open lay-ups.
  • Here a block, there a block. Last night 7 of the 10 Jazz players who played longer than one minute of game time blocked a shot.
  • Resting during the all-star break? Andrei Kirilenko traveled all the way to Russia for a quick visit. Memhet Okur went to Hawaii with his wife. So much for taking it easy and resting up for the 2nd half of the season. AK47 and Memo combined to shoot 3-17 last night, but word is they racked up a bunch of frequent flyer miles.
  • You can't play Dallas without thinking of Mark Cuban. Mark is a super-fan, who became an owner, and remained a super fan. You can check on Mark by reading his blog, titled "BlogMaverick", which covers much more than just the Mavs. I can't recommend enough that you check out his commentary on the NHL.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

For Raul Lopez life just isn't fair

The Utah Jazz announced that point guard Raul Lopez will have season ending knee surgery. The good news is that this is not further damage to his twice-repaired left knee. The bad news is that this was his 'good' knee. For a point guard with the right attitude and a load of youthful talent, his brief NBA career has been an injury fest. Raul has shown a lot of perseverance, but this is getting ridiculous. This is definitely something classified as bad things happening to good person, again.

The injury leaves the Jazz with a thin point guard position. Luckily, Keith McLeod is expected back from injury for the Mavericks game. Howard Eisley will continue to handle back-up PG duties and is coming off two great games before the allstar break, where he averaged 17 pts and 10 assists against the Lakers and Suns.

The Jazz training staff stays busy as Carlos Boozer is expected to miss the game with injury as well. Andrei Kirilenko is said to be better after the all-star break and should return to action from his ankle injury.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Lakers ready to Booz' it up?

The rumor circulating today is that Carlos Boozer of the Jazz is being traded to the Lakers for some combination of Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Vlade Divac, and Devan George. The latest rumored combination included the last three players listed. The first rumor was Odom and either Butler or George. Per the Utah Jazz PR Department, as reported by the Jazz Flagship radio station (1320 KFAN) as of 225pm MST today, there is nothing to that rumor/deal.

I for one think keeping Boozer is best option, but with a losing record, everything short of trading Andrei Kirilenko should continue to be discussed.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Timmmmberrrrrr....Wolves fall hard to Jazz 100-82

Utah and Minnesota have in common the fact that they are non-performing investments this season. Friday night the erratic Jazz posted a nice win, to remind fans of what could be, and to Wolves posted another frustrating example of their up and down season.

For most of the season, the Utah Jazz have failed to meet the high expectations of their ownership and fan base. Larry Miller invested big into this team this year by bringing in lots of free agent talent. The result has been hard to explain as the Jazz have combined youth and with inconsistency with a mix of injuries and bad to luck, to not perform as expected.

The Minnesota Timberwolves dropped to 25-26 with the loss to the Jazz. This is a team featuring one of the very best players in a the game in Kevin Garnett. This is a team, much like the Jazz, that an owner invested big money to acquire the surrounding parts. Spreewell, Cassell, Szcerbiak, and Michael Olowokandi all make big money and are expected allow them to challenge for an NBA title. The Wolves are also an under performing investment.

For one night, the Jazz reversed their season trend and played inspired ball to dominate the Wolves 100-82. My only comment is to contrast the two stars of the respective teams. Andrei Kirilenko filled the stat line with 20 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks. He was everywhere and in the 2nd half when the Jazz took over it was all AK47. Contrast with Kevin Garnett, who was limited to 12 points and 8 rebounds and only took 9 shots in 36 minutes. That is more amazing in that Garnett only had 1 assist. No shots. No assists. That means he wasn't the focus or cornerstone of the offense. That is inexcusable. For complete coverage of the game, you can read a good article by Brian Hamilton of the St. Paul Press by clicking here.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Sometimes talent is enough

Jazz start slow, and Denver's talent takes advantage with a 97-87 victory.

The Jazz starters had a tough time getting well, started. Denver jumped out a 9 point first quarter lead. The Jazz reserves led by Mehmet Okur (Memo), Matt Harpring, and Raja Bell battled back to make it interesting. In the end, the overall talent of Carmello Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Andre Miller, and little 5'5" Earl Boykins was just too much.

There was actually some fun talent on the floor in Denver. Some fun names to say as well. Including: Nene, Mello, Raja, and Memo.

Speaking of talent. Talent isn't always enough to succeed this league. When they debate how much of the game is mental and how important it is, you can always site Carmello Anthony's performance on Tuesday night as exhibit A. He is a young player that just reacts and lets his natural talent carry him. On this night it carried him to 25 points. As for the mental part of the game? Anthony had his shorts on backwards and when he finally noticed, he decided to pull them down and turn them around right there on TV and in front of the home crowd. More cerebral players might not have decided to fix the problem in the same way. They might not have had the issue in the first place. Other players might have even been embarrassed or knocked off their game because of it. A more cerebral player might have done a lot of things different. Carmello on the other hand posted 25 points and one of his better games of the season. It was however, pretty funny.

The Nuggets who have struggled with consistency this season looked pretty solid. They still miss Voshon Lenard's outside shooting, but when they are playing hard they have many of the needed pieces to play with anyone.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Marbury was great, but is that a good thing?

Stephon Marbury was great in the Delta Center Monday night. Leading the New York Knicks to a 102-99 overtime victory over the Utah Jazz. Marbury posted 30 points with 8 coming in the overtime. He showed a real life example of what it means to eat someone's lunch, referring to the two point guards on the Jazz. He had zero problem with the young Raul Lopez and the ancient Howard Eisley. While Lopez and Eisley can both give you good things at different times, they both ran into a dynamo they couldn't handle.

Marbury's season stats are terrific at 20.9 ppg and 8.2 assists per game. Those are right on his career averages of 20.5 and 8.3 respectively. One statistic this year is up. Way up. He is shooting a career high 47.2% this season, which is up from his career average of 43.4%. His previous career best was 44.2%.

Now, establishing that it was a great night for Stephon, I wonder if it was a good thing for those Knicks. Interim head coach Herb Williams and the man with the controls, Isaiah Thomas, both publicly shout praises about Marbury being 'the man'. However, its hard to wonder if some of these great performances don't perpetuate the love affair in New York and distract the people in charge from noticing that one trend in Marbury's career is continuing. Losing. New York is now 19-29 and will have a tough time making the playoffs, despite playing in the awful Eastern Conference. Despite a huge payroll, they won't be competitive at much except for the size of the paychecks they distribute every two weeks.

I have no vendetta against Stephon Marbury, but its hard not to wonder why the teams he plays for so often lose and underachieve. In a few cases, when he has been traded, the team went on to achieve great things in his absence. You could argue he was so valuable to the teams that he left, that they were able to obtain a great deal in the trade, almost a Herschel Walker type thing, and that could have some merit. Still, the losing is the key. The goal of this game is to win. I discount the personal goals of making lots of money, buying big houses, fancy cars, and posting big numbers...because, well...hey..losing makes you a loser and that isn't the goal. I don't mean any disrespect to Latrell Spreewell, if I just dissed his rationale for waking up each day, but well, I believe he can feed his kids. Okay, back to Marbury, I know its a team game and he shouldn't get all the blame. But, just for conversation consider, what happens to teams when he leaves, even if it is just coincidence....

Phoenix in Marbury's last full season there, went 44-38. This year they are on pace for 64-18. Also, before Stephon arrived in Phoenix they were 51-31, and in his first year there they dropped to 36-46.

Minnesota was 45-37 in Marbury's last season there ('97-98). When Terrell Brandon came on board they improved to 50-32.

New Jersey was 26-56 in his last full season there and then vaulted to 52-30 the year after he left.

I am not a big Isaiah Thomas fan, so I hope the Knicks hold on to Stephon.

Marbury by the way, brings this type of critical analysis on himself. Here is a recent statement from Stephon:

"Don't get me wrong, I love Jason Kidd, he is a great point guard," Marbury said. "[But] how am I comparing myself to him when I think I'm the best point guard to play basketball? That makes no sense. I can't compare myself to somebody when I already think I'm the best.

"I'm telling you what it is. I know I'm the best point guard in the NBA," Marbury said.

Stephon, have you ever heard of the saying, when you are great you don't have to spend all your time telling everyone and trying to convince them of your greatness? When you are great, they know it and are probably the ones telling you.

Monday, February 07, 2005

New Orleans New and Old

Saturday Night the Utah Jazz hosted the New Orleans Hornets in the Delta Center. There is always something strange in the air when the Jazz, originally from New Orleans, play the latest NBA team calling New Orleans home.

The Hornets are either building, rebuilding, or still in the demolition stage, although its very difficult to guess which it is. They have injuries galore and came in having played the night before. Therefore, they had more than enough excuses stockpiled to cover them in this one. Well, the Hornets probably used every one after losing to the Jazz 108-92. Speaking of excuses, if you don't use them, are they really there?

In fairness, you cannot overlook the excuse that the Hornets played without their modern day stars Baron Davis and Jamaal Magloire. They also played without their star of recent years in Jamal Mashburn, who contrary to popular opinion, doesn't appear to have retired, despite his endless string of injuries and permanent resident status on the injured list. Forget stars here, the Hornets even played without serviceable fill-in Lee Nailon with an injured groin.

New Orleans simply does not have the needed bodies to defend, score or rebound in the low post. Their starting front line of journeymen (PJ Brown, George Lynch, and Rodney Rodgers) only combined for 14 points and 9 rebounds, while also posting 12 fouls, 6 turnovers, and no blocked shots.

The Jazz took advantage with many easy shots. They shot 80% for the first quarter and finished the game at 53%. Seven players scored in double figures, five players had five or more rebounds, and five different guys blocked a shot.

I'll give this to the Hornets, they got off the bus and competed. They have a couple of terrific shooters in Casey Jacobson and Bostjan Nachbar. I also like Dan Dickau, that big haired, but small framed point guard who really seems to understand this game even if he looks to be a high school gym rat. I cannot resist commenting however on their road uniforms. They are a sort of a aqua-blueish, tv out-of-contrast, all of the good colors were taken type of color. Maybe they are a Miami Vice inspired mardi gras parade uniform that doubles as a road team jersey. Ugh.

(Jazz rookie, Kirk Synder avoids PJ Brown and his electric blue uniform)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Jazz Update: Nets, Bobcats, and some quick shots

Just when you think the Jazz have come around the corner or are at least getting close, they get ran over by a big truck that stops all forward progress. Then they try to get up and dust themselves off, only to have a little kid on a scooter mow them down. The Jazz played pretty well in Minnesota last Friday. They lost the game in ugly fashion at the end of the game, but in all honestly a young team playing on the road often falls apart. That hurt, but its been the last two games that have caused the pain.

The Cast, staring as the 'Big Truck': The New Jersey Nets

Trying to rebound from the Timberwolves game, the Jazz hosted the Nets on Saturday night. The Nets are under .500 and looked on paper like a team the Jazz should beat at home. However, the Nets had won 2 in a row and 5 of 7 coming in to Salt Lake City, and they featured a line-up with a healthy Jason Kidd and Vince Carter. Still even with that build-up, I don't think Jazz expected a big truck with New Jersey across the front, to completely run them over. The Nets routed Utah 99-82, in a game that was only that close because the Jazz ended the game on a bit of a run. How dominant was New Jersey? The Nets led by 24 after 3 quarters and they beat the Jazz in statistical categories of: FG%, 3PT FG, FT Made, Rebounds, Assists, Steals, Blocks, turnovers, and they committed fewer fouls. Ouch!

And in the role of 'little kid on a scooter': The Charlotte Bobcats

So after the big truck ran them over, the Jazz had the perfect remedy scheduled. A home game against the expansion Charlotte Bobcats, who had only won one road game on the season. To make it even better, the Bobcats number one draft pick, Emeka Okafor was injured for the game. Despite an 11 point lead in the fourth quarter, things went haywire, and the Bobcats led by castoffs like Brevin Knight and Gerald Wallace surged past the Jazz enroute to a 109-105 win. For the Jazz, Andrei Kirilenko did about everything humanly possible to push the Jazz to victory. He finished with 27 points, 6 rebounds, 10 assists, and 3 blocks, and setup both Carlos Boozer and Gordan Giricek for potential winning baskets with in the last minute. How bad did this game hurt? The Bobcats clearly won the game on hustle and heart. Notice, no mention of talent. At least known talent. I challenge anyone reading this to name another Bobcat player not mentioned in this article. Can't do it can you? (click here for their roster). Double Ouch!

Closing with some Quick Shots:
  • For a team that was always healthy and predictable for so many years, this year's Jazz are more like the anti-Jazz. Hurt and erratic.
  • The Jazz are now the only team to lose at home to both New Orleans and Charlotte.
  • The Jazz are also the only team to beat Phoenix, Seattle and San Antonio.
  • Despite being a losing team, the Jazz feature one of those NBA players worth paying to watch in Andrei Kirilenko.
  • Flip-flop. The first game between the two teams this year was a nearly identical score 107-105 (Jazz win). In that one, the Jazz came from 20 points down to get the win.
  • The Jazz are now 9-13 at home.
  • Speaking of losing. I find it surprising that Denver, Utah, Portland, Indiana and every team in the Atlantic division all have losing records.
  • Did anyone else just notice that San Antonio is not in Utah's division?
  • Want to stump someone in Jazz Trivia? How many years has it been since the Jazz have won less than last season's 42 games? They might go back to the early eighties to start their guessing. The Jazz were 41-41 in 1984-85, and 30-52 in 1982-83 which was the last time they failed to reach .500. However, the answer: In 1998-99 season the Jazz went 37-13 in a strike shortened season.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Jazz let another Fish off the hook

A Promising start ends in 4th Quarter Heartbreak

The young Jazz struggled to complete a promising game in Minnesota on Friday night. In fact after leading my 16, the Jazz let Minnesota wiggle off the hook late in the game and ruined what was nearly a great trip to the Great Lakes Region. Until the NBA starts giving credit for winning partial games, or counting “we almost did its” as victories, the Jazz will have to keep clawing.

In fact to best understand what happened to the Jazz Friday night, we could examine a hypothetical fishing trip made by a group of young fishermen.

The young fishermen showed up to fish the challenging unfamiliar lake in Minnesota. The young fishermen didn’t have much experience, nor did they feel too comfortable, in the strange surroundings. Luckily, they were given some guidance by an old Ranger, who tried to impart all the wisdom and planning needed to obtain a fine catch. The young fishermen were full of youthful energy and spunk, and while not completely sure how to accomplish the task, they marched bravely ahead. Initially following the plan laid out for them by the seasoned Ranger, the fishermen looked to have a great deal of success. In fact, they hooked a big fish and started to reel it in. The fish while not a trophy fish that would garner national attention, it was certainly a conquer worth having and would gain the young fishermen some esteem and acknowledgement within their region. Things seemed to be going very well, but in the excitement of landing the big fish and thinking of all the grandeur and pride that would be achieved, the young fishermen forgot to stay with the plan and tips provided by the Ranger. As the fish got near the boat, the young fishermen were excited but also getting very nervous and caught up in the moment. The fish decided to fight back and try to free himself. The young inexperienced fishermen went ahead and tried to land the fish anyway, but as they were lifting the fish up out of the water and clearly able to see their prize, they neglected to quickly scoop it into the net. The big fish shook and spun and freed itself. Splashing back into the water the fish swam away and left the young fishermen broken hearted. Instead of leaving their adventure to the Great Lakes Region feeling successful, the young fishermen were forced to endure a late night trip home empty handed.

After the game the Ranger…urr Jazz coach, Jerry Sloan, had to feel encouraged by the way his team of young fishermen, battled and attacked early in the game. However, losing composure at the end and not showing the mental toughness required to win, was surely a tough thing to swallow. One thing is for certain, I don't expect Sloan to give up trying to teach these guys how to fish...urr Win.

For a non fishing related recap of the game, you can read the Salt Lake Tribune’s coverage of the game by clicking here.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Shooting and Missing

Shooting Percentages in the NBA : The Best and the worst.

As you know, I love to look at statistics of different kinds. One very common statistic is field goal percentage. Usually the best big men in the league are the best percentage shooters. Looking at the top 5 in the NBA, there are no real surprises:

  • Shaquille O'Neal .610
  • Amare Stoudemire .572
  • Eddie Curry .537
  • Carlos Boozer .530
  • Udonis Haslem .528
One guy who makes the top ten is somewhat shocking. Jason Terry of Dallas is #10 in the NBA at .521. This is surprising in that he is a guard who shoots mainly from the perimeter, but also, the guy is a career .432 shooter. Something has changed, and I'd guess it's playing on a winning team that features several other great players who are demanding double teams.

One thing that people don't always look at is the worst field goal percentage shooters. I did, and I was surprised to find who was dead last in the NBA for made FG %. The criteria requires that all these players must be on pace to make 300 FG for the season, so for that reason part time players don't appear much in this list. Okay, who is last?

How about Kobe Bryant. Yes, Kobe is ranked #101 and therefore is the lowest ranked player in terms of shooting percentage. It doesn't help that Kobe takes almost 30% of his shots behind the arc, where he only shoots 33%.

Here are the brick-layers (bottom of the FG% rankings):
  • Kobe Bryant .406
  • Antoinne Walker .409
  • Earl Boykins .412
  • Allen Iverson .414
  • Morris Peterson .415
  • Corey Maggette .415
You can see the entire list on ESPN by clicking here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Jazz Show Signs of Life

The Utah Jazz showed signs of life in their 109-100 victory over the Seattle Sonics last night. It might be more accurately stated as "Signs of Health". The two stars of the game for the Jazz were Andrei Kirilenko, playing just his 3rd game back from injury, and point guard Raul Lopez, who has had his career limited by injuries.

Andrei Kirilenko played two 10 minute stretches for the Jazz, as he is still being limited by the trainers who do not want to rush him back too quick. Perhaps no other player is as hard to describe as AK 47, in that when he is on the floor good things happen and you can't always measure them. That doesn't mean he is a quiet player, as when you are finished watching you know his impact is huge, and huge in a way that the box score sometimes misses. I am not sure whether "Jigsaw" is a good nickname for him or not, but its many different pieces that come together to make an effective result with Andrei. Blocked shots, steals, offensive rebounds, deflections, and off the ball movement are things that he excels at. Sure, he delivers points and rebounds and some assists, but he is dominant in those other areas. Kirilenko being back from injury definitely brings hope to the fans. You can sense it.

Raul Lopez was the unquestioned star of the game. Raul played a career high 38 minutes and set season highs of 20 points and 11 assists. Keep in mind, Lopez had averaged only 13.6 minutes per game this season, but was thrust into the starting point guard position due to the trade of Carlos Arroyo and the recent injury to Keith McLeod. Health will be a key, but this guy may not give back the starting position for a while.

Did anyone see this victory by the Jazz coming? The author of the best Sonics blog going, is in tune with pulse of his team and predicted this outcome correctly (click and read for yourself). I for one was somewhat surprised. I thought the fact that Seattle played the night before, while the Jazz were home and resting, meant it could be close. However, after watching the offensive show Seattle put on the Jazz over the weekend, it was hard to imagine them being slowed down by the less than impressive defense the Jazz have been playing.

The Jazz have a home dominated schedule with 4 of the next 5, and 5 of the next 7, being played in the Delta Center. As the season is rapidly ticking away, the Jazz must now start to win if there is any prayer of playoff contention. I shouldn't mention this, but the Jazz are now 15-28 on the season, and would have to finish 26-13 to get to .500 (which still may not be a playoff birth in the rugged Western Conference).

A closing comment on the Sonics (whom the Jazz have finished playing for the year), is that they sure are fun to watch shoot the basketball. Ray Allen might be the purest bomber in Seattle since Downtown Freddie Brown. And probably not since Jack Sikma have they had a big guy step out like Vladimir Radmanovic and bury endless jumpers. It doesn't end there either as Rashard Lewis, Luke Ridnour, and Antonio Daniels all seem to drop daggers when left open.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Stop the Zebras

The Jazz are all FOULED up

Every time the official blows the whistle, victory is farther away

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a strong Jazz supporter. However, it has become clear that the Jazz are FOULED up this year.

One over-looked statistic that actually tells a great deal about winning and losing is the fouls called differential. Meaning, the number of fouls called on the Jazz, minus the number of fouls called on their opponent in the same game, creates the fouls called differential (FCD). I'm not sure that it's statistic that is monitored all that often, and perhaps is only being done so now as I grasp at straws to explain the Jazz season thus far. That said, this statistical review delivered a pretty powerful result.

The Jazz have the highest and worst FCD in the NBA at +2.82 per game (A good FCD is a negative number). How important is the FCD to winning and losing? Consider a study of the worst 6 teams (highest FCD) and best 6 teams (lowest FCD) as of Friday night (01/21/05):

Worst 6: Utah (+2.82 ), Atlanta (+2.47), New Jersey (+2.00), New York (+1.92), Chicago (+1.88), and New Orleans (+1.78); Combined Record: 77-153, or .335 winning percentage.

Best 6: Phoenix (-2.82), Miami (-2.47), San Antonio (-2.39), Detroit (-2.26), Sacramento (-1.76), and LA Lakers (-1.67); Combined Record: 163-73, or .691 winning percentage.

How could the fouls called differential be so important? Consider that every additional foul called would most likely be a foul called when the team is already in the bonus for a quarter, and their opponent would get two free throws. So the Jazz are fouling almost 3 more fouls per game than their opponent and therefore giving up nearly an extra 6 foul shots per game. For a team that has lost many close games that is important. Add to the fact that an extra foul here or there could be putting one of their good players on the bench during a key time.

Don’t the Jazz always play physical defense, and most likely always been poor in this category? Actually No. Last year when the Jazz finished with a 42-40 record, their FCD while still not great at +1.18, was more of a middle of the road number. In the last two Stockton and Malone years, the Jazz had impressive -1.38 and -1.19 FCD’s and won 55% of their games.

Why are the Jazz doing so poor this season? It could be the fact that the NBA has changed the way they call fouls this year and are whistling aggressive defensive teams for more fouls. However, three aggressive and physical defensive teams (Miami, San Antonio, and Detroit) are 3 of the best 4 teams in the NBA in terms of FCD.

Missing Andrei Kirilenko with injury, could that be a reason? Could be. Interestingly, with Andrei in the line-up this year the Jazz are 8-6, with a -1.36 FCD, which would be 8th best in the entire NBA.

Perhaps having Kirilenko back in the line-up will allow the Jazz to make a few more defensive plays, and result in the referees blowing that whistle a couple less times per game. One thing is certain: Over a period of games, fewer whistles, means fewer losses.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Breaking NBA News: Arroyo Traded to Detroit

There were rumors that Utah Jazz point guard Carlos Arroyo could be traded. Most people figured it just to be natural speculation because Arroyo was struggling to succeed this season. However, it appears the rumors to be true:

ESPN's Chad Ford is reporting that the Jazz are sending Arroyo to Detroit for Elden Campbell and a future first round draft choice.

This move would give Detroit a true PG, something they have been lacking. It would give the Jazz a first round pick and salary cap room in the coming off season. Elden Campbell would probably be waived. Some will say it was a quick hook by the Jazz to deal him so soon, especially given the fact he played so well last season and had a terriffic Olympic tournament leading Puerto Rico.

Bottom line: I like Arroyo, but he is young and hardly reliable for the Jazz. They have played better without him this year (see previous post on this) and the Jazz ownership has always backed Coach Sloan.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Bell rings up Lakers in 4th

Arroyo on the bench again, while Jazz sparkle in the 4th Quarter

The Jazz beat the Lakers in the Fabulous Forum last night, 102-94. Okay, so it was the Staples center and Magic Johnson nor Stockton-to-Malone were on exhibit. For that matter, the modern day heroes of Kobe Bryant and Andrei Kirilenko were also absent with leg injuries. It still doesn't change the fact that there is still something fun about playing the purple and gold in La-La land and something terrific about winning, no matter the circumstances. When the camera panned we saw all that we needed: The LA Skyline outside, the stars courtside, the banners in the rafters, and the Jazz with more points than the hometown Lakers on the scoreboard.

As typical with many Jazz games this season, one of the most interesting things was who played and who didn't. Raja Bell, for instance, didn't play much. In the first half that is. Raja even admitted after the game that he didn't like not playing. But in the end, he respected Coach Sloan's decision and did not show signs of frustration or a selfish motivation. Instead, when he was finally given extra minutes in the 4th quarter of Monday Night's game, Bell let his play do the talking and scored 14 of his 16 points in the quarter. He was hardly the only star, but his big 3-pointer late in the game was crucial. The fact that he had the attitude when needed was huge.

In contrast, Carlos Arroyo continues to ride the pine for the Jazz. I understand his frustration, but I'm still optimistic enough to think that if he keeps his head right, that he'll get another opportunity to be the lead point guard down the road. Last night, even during a gripping game against the Lakers when a grumpy person would have been forgiven to lose himself and excitedly support his teammates, appeared somber. There were several times when you could not miss his glum and less than enthusiastic expression. He's young and I hope will rebound, but visually he looks like he is completely crushed.

The media typically refers to Arroyo's not playing because of a fallout with Jerry Sloan. Was there a fallout? Yes, we all saw the argument, but you forget that Sloan routinely fell out of sorts with others in the past, only to give them playing time when they were willing and able to contribute. Greg Ostertag, for instance, was always banging heads with Sloan, but they quickly put it behind them and Greg contributed shortly afterwards. I think rather than pointing to that one argument as to why Carlos isn't playing, we can look at the numbers for the problem.

First, a general comparison of some of Arroyo's average numbers between this year and last:

This year: 24.7 mins, 40.1 FG%, 38.9 3pt %, 1.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.8 TO, and 8.2 points .
Last year: 28.3 mins, 44.1 FG%, 37.4 3pt %, 2.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.2 TO, and 12.6 points.

There isn't a huge fall off statistically, although he isn't shooting or rebounding quite as well, but the key is that the team isn't performing as well when he is in the game. The role the Jazz give their point guard is to be responsible for others and the overall flow of the team. You might say that it's subjective to say that Arroyo isn't doing as well as the other PGs on the roster, and there isn't much tangible proof that the team isn't performing when he is on the court. Well after a little digging some interesting numbers can be found. The amazing folks at have taken statistics to a new level. You can see a report on the Jazz, that shows how the Jazz perform with each player on the court, in terms of +/- points relative to their opponents (based on a 48 minute game). When you compare the three point guards on the Jazz, this is very telling:

Arroyo -8.3
McCleod +6.0
Lopez +8.4

For conversation sake, and to highlight how much the Jazz miss Andrei Kirilenko, his number is a +21.7. How big is Kirilenko's presence? Compare his to some other NBA greats: Duncan (15.6), Iverson (1.6), Garnett (14.4), Kobe (9.7), Lebron (12.2) and Steve Nash (12.7). We'll have to keep monitoring these numbers as the season goes one.
(Note these numbers seem to be very fluid and change with each game, but as of this moment, you can get the idea)

Friday, January 14, 2005

Kings execute Jazzmen

The Jazz were playing sweet music the last two games. Cliche? Sure, but after beating two of the best teams in the NBA this week, the Jazz may be entitled. Thursday night in Sacramento, the Utah Jazz were brought back to earth a bit, when the Kings used terrific offensive execution at key moments, to end Utah's two game winning streak.

The Kings were warriors. It was a physical and bloody night. Greg Ostertag had his false teeth knocked out when he was accidentally elbowed in the mouth by Jazz center Curtis Borchardt. Kings forward Maurice Evans went strong to the basket late in the 4th quarter but was challenged in mid-air by Carlos Boozer and Kirk Snyder of the Jazz. Evans lost his balance and landed gruesomely on his head and shoulder. When all said and done, Ostertag has six stitches, Evans had twelve stitches and a concussion, but the Sacramento got the victory.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the Sacramento victory was the execution on offense. Especially noticeable after timeouts. Virtually every time they came out of timeout the Kings scored a basket off a well designed play. One of the few times the Jazz completely defended the designed play, Chris Webber took it up on himself and made a forced shot. With regard to Webber, he clearly is not the same guy physically that he used to be. He isn't as quick and his swagger and way of moving now seem to be a product of years of banging on his body, rather than a style point being made. That said, Webber is savvy, still very talented, and makes up for physical slowing by good decision making. You may not always respect things he says and does off the court, but there are many reasons to respect the way he has continued to adapt his game over the years.

There were a few comments that always need reacting to....

What was said:
Peja Stojakovic, perhaps the best shooter in the NBA, said, "When they grab and hold you for 30 minutes you get mad. I was just letting the referee know, if you are going to call it by the rules, you should do it, and not let them get away from that."
What I think:
You know I respect his shooting, but his whining about someone trying to actually guard him is a little irritating. It is not as irritating as his constant flopping, whining, arm swinging, and exaggerated movements he makes to try and draw fouls, but you get the idea. From the, 'If I could get what I want file', I'd like to see Peja being guarded by Jerry Sloan, the young or old Jerry would be fine. For the record, Peja can relax, the officials noticed and called the game exactly the way he would have hoped, with Utah being whistled for 26 fouls and Sacramento only 16. I'd rather have Peja commenting about how great his teammates Brad Miller and Chris Webber played, or the precision play calling of Rick Adelman. He is a marksman on the court, but a few of his comments are a little off the mark.

What was said:
Greg Ostertag, former Utah Jazz center, said, "That's just Jerry [Sloan]. You don't expect to see stuff like that happen, and I don't think it was intentional, I think he just got caught [Maurice Evans], and that's what he gets for jumping so high. But Jerry's hands on. 'Stick your nose in there , and if it gets busted, stick it back in', that's the way Jerry coaches."
What I think:
All those years of banging heads with coach Sloan, we always thought he and Jerry didn't understand each other. We were wrong! Actually, in all seriousness, the fall by Maurice Evans was scary. To the point that after the first couple of replays, I was very tired of seeing it and had to look away. It is however part of the game and I don't like how the world and NBA are always looking for someone to blame. The other quotes and comments suggested it was a dirty play, and even the officials gave the Jazz a flagrant foul on the play. The truth is, two players on the Jazz defended the basket and tried to get the basketball, and Evans was a high flyer who went strong to the rim. Falling and getting hurt is a risk and Evans should share some of the blame. To leap into the heart of a defense like that without assuming that bodies will collide doesn't make sense. In the end, this kid looks to have a bright future, is a terrific athlete, and reports are that despite the mild concussion he'll be fine.

Closing notes...
Kudos to the Sacramento Bee and writer Scott Howard-Cooper for the fine piece about Jerry Sloan and the emotions he has over losing his wife Bobbye. It is a must read and you can do so by clicking here.

Jazz announced Kirilenko is out until January 22nd, despite rumors and hopes that he would be back Saturday the 15th.

All in the Family. Sacramento's fill-in point guard, Eddie House is actually Mike Bibby's brother-in-law.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A rare eclipse - Jazz block out the Suns

For the second time this week, a true NBA powerhouse rolled into the Delta Center.

For the second time this week, a true NBA powerhouse was beaten by the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz won the game, 115-108, behind a huge night from Mehmet Okur. Okur ended the night with 21 points and 17 rebounds, 10 of which were on the offensive end. There were many other contributors for the Jazz, as they flashed signs of what could be. Signs of what they hoped and thought they could be all along. They did not flash any signs of a team that entered the game in last place in their division, and had only won a third of their games on the season. To understand the brilliance of this victory, you need to look at the opponent.

Phoenix entered into the game with an astonishing 31-4 record. With only 4 losses the Suns had only half as many losses as the next closest team in the entire league (San Antonio with 8). The Suns were on pace to win 72 games in the season, which would match the Bulls for the most wins ever in an NBA season. The Suns, the night before had beaten Miami, the best team in the Eastern Conference, in a dominating fashion 122-107.

Phoenix departed Salt Lake City with loss number 5 and while showing amazing offensive ability, also showed a few areas of fragility. Lack of Depth - An injury to a key player (Nash, Stoudemire, or Marion) and this team would become very beatable. Who does the dirty work? The absence of any real ability to do the thankless tasks of rebounding and defense was evident.

The outside observer trying to explain what happened, would write this one off saying the Suns overlooked the Jazz, were tired from the night before, and probably victims of an officiating crew that favored the home town club. To be honest, the first two items are true. The Suns who rightfully have a healthy swagger going, probably overlooked the Jazz. Its also likely they were tired from the night before. However, some of the fatigue issues have more to do with team setup and coaching philosophy, than the fact they simply played the night before. Even though the Suns are young and energetic, the fatigue issue won't go away because Phoenix has no depth and a coach with a philosophy of "keeping 7 or 8 guys happy" with playing time. The result: Only two Sun reserves played more than 10 minutes, and none played more than 19, leaving the Suns with a grand total of 6 points and 3 rebounds contributed by the bench. The third explanation, about the Suns getting unfair treatment by the officials who may have been inclined to favor the home team, is simply untrue. The Jazz were whistled for 26 fouls, the Suns only 16. The Jazz shot 16 free throws the entire night, the Suns shot 36 and that factor alone kept the Suns close.

A few things and numbers, that I find interesting....

  • Suns forward Shawn Marion said, "We came out of the gates on fire tonight and I think we just relaxed a little bit. And as soon as we relaxed, they became the aggressors and they started getting the calls." Can someone send Marion the stat sheet showing that the Suns attempted more than twice the number of free throws as the Jazz? Can someone remind Shawn that he took 6 free throws, which is twice his season average (3.2 per game)?
  • The Suns totaled 14 assists for the game. Not bad. However, take away Steve Nash's 11 assists and you see only three other Suns contributed one assist each.
  • The Suns shot 27 three pointers, only making 9. That sounds like an awful lot of three point attempts, but the Suns average 24 per game on the season. It also sounds like they weren't too successful with all those shots by only making 33%. However, consider those 9 made three pointers totaled 27 points, meaning the Suns would have needed to make 14, or 52%, of 27 two point shots to equal the total points scored. Bombs Away!
  • This was the first game the Suns had lost to a team with a losing record this season.
  • A bunch of young guys were on the court last night. The oldest starter on either team was Steve Nash at 30. The 10 guys starting for the two teams averaged 25.2 years of age.
  • The Suns up-tempo, offensive style is fun to watch. They average 110 points a game, which is nearly 8 more points than the next closest team (Dallas - 102).

Did you Know? The Suns hold the NBA record for most points scored in the first half of a game, with 107. Record was set in 1990 against Denver.

The Jazz head to Sacramento tonight and then return for a game against the second best team in the Eastern Conference, Cleveland on Saturday. It will be interesting to see if they can keep building on this new found ability to play an entire game. They should receive a boost if Andrei Kirilenko returns to the lineup this weekend as predicted.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Why they play the games, and why we watch

The Jazz are enduring a difficult year. That is an understatement. However, before we over-react to their losing record and struggles in the what seems like the 2nd half of every ball game, we need to keep perspective. Perspective, like Jerry Sloan, who recently said:

"Hardships never hurt anybody. It's how you deal with them. I've dealt with plenty of those things," said Sloan, whose wife died last June. "This is not a hardship. This is just basketball. Last year was a hardship."

Only perhaps a demeanor like Sloan could set the stage for the, "We are down, but we are not out, game of the year" thus far.

Monday Night in the Delta Center, the San Antonio Spurs entered the game having won 18 straight games over the Jazz. The Jazz last beat the Spurs nearly 5 years ago (Feb 2000). The Jazz entered the game having lost 9 games in a row, which was their longest losing streak since 1983. While those streaks didn't sound promising, the further realities of the Jazz season made it even worse. The Jazz announced that afternoon they would be without Forwards Matt Harpring and Raja Bell, who would both sit and rest injured knees. Keep in mind the Jazz were already without their best player, Andrei Kirilenko, and another rotation regular in Jarron Collins. No problem, they'll just lean on Carlos Arroyo who stared in the summer Olympics, and give him a chance to shine. Right? Well, Carlos hasn't been himself and is barely getting any playing time in Sloan's rotation.

Was I alone in feeling that the task before them was ridiculous? Hardly. In fact, I think I may always remember the demeanor and tone of those on the Jazz radio network during the pregame show. Former Coach Tom Nissalke and co-host Ian Fitzsimmons, were sort of chuckling under their breaths as they tried to give credence to the Jazz's chances of winning that night. I don't blame them, I didn't see it coming. In fact, I probably would have forgiven the Jazz if they just mailed this one in.

Well by now, you all know what happened. Mehmet Okur tipped in a miss by Keith McLeod at the buzzer and the place went nuts, as the Jazz beat the Spurs 97-96. The players and fans celebrated like they had won a playoff game. Getting the monkey, at least for a night, off your back was clearly a huge thing. Even the normal even keeled Jerry Sloan stated, "Tonight they deserve a reward because they stayed with it for the full 48 minutes". Just how much love was in the air? Even San Antonio coach Greg Popovich wasn't entirely disappointed with the outcome of the game and commented, "I'm happy for them, in a strange sort of way."

Was this the game that will turn around the Jazz season? I'd like to say yes, but the truth is, this is a Sloan coached team. He will eventually get the best out of them, and their success will hinge more on the health of key players, improvement by the new players, and the ability for the team to improve together, than the emotion or result of a single game.

For one night, the fact that the improbable happened cannot be underscored enough. It was a terrific game and a terrific thing to watch. In fact, its games like this that explain why they play the games that seemed decided ahead of time, and why we love to watch them.