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.