Friday, November 30, 2007

Jazz Dismantle the Lakers

The Jazz hosted the Lakers, and before tip-off received the crushing news that two starters would miss the game with injury. Undoubtedly the hearts of Jazz fans sunk when they heard that Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur would miss the game with injuries. So much for the great start to the season - losing 37 points and 16 rebounds a night would be fatal against the Lakers.

Instead, in a shocking display, the Jazz crushed the Lakers 120-96 (box score). Sure, the Lakers came in on the 2nd night of a back to back - but before you write this off as Laker fatigue - consider that the Jazz scored 70 points in the first half and led by 19 at the break. This was not a typical back to back outcome where the road team wore down in the second half, as this game was over long before fatigue was the issue, plus the Laker's blew out Denver last night and were able to rest many guys.

It was a Jazz night all around:
  • Deron Williams scored a career high 35 points and took it upon himself to pick up some of the scoring slack with Boozer and Okur out.
  • Andrei Kirilenko's line was ridiculous - a triple double, the 3rd of his career and plenty more. AK47 produced 20 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, 6 steals, and 4 blocked shots - with no turnovers in 41 minutes.
  • Paul Milsap tied a season high with 20 points and added 9 rebounds while starting in Boozer's spot. Milsap is two things that the Laker big men are not - fearless and physical.
  • Ronnie Brewer worked hard against Kobe, didn't get lit up for 50 again, and put up a nice line scoring 14 points, 6 assists and 2 more steals.
  • The NBA got it's first peak at Kyrylo Fesenko, Utah's 7'1", 20 year old rookie who out hustled and over powered the Lakers interior players in his first NBA action with 6 points, 7 rebounds, in 17 minutes - just one night after playing for the Utah Flash in the NBDL. He's big, he's agile, but he's very young and raw.
  • Utah Jazz Injury Update: Boozer's sore ankle is healing, but still has some swelling. I'd guess he'd be ready to roll Monday Night. Okur's back spasms also sound like he is close to return, and he also looks to be ready to return Monday.
For Lakers, a few things worthy of note:
  • Kobe got his average with 28 points, and put on a show in the 2nd quarter - but failed to torch the Jazz and maintain the dominance that he has asserted against Utah over the last few years. Credit team defense and individuals Brewer and AK for big defensive efforts.
  • Fisher has a miserable return to Utah. 1-8 shooting for 3 points and was absolutely torched in the 2nd quarter by Deron Williams.
  • Andrew Bynum shows flashes, but is young, isn't a strong finisher yet and the Lakers seem to give up on him pretty easy. That said, the kid had 8 points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes. To AB's defense it's hard to contribute on offense when the triangle seems set to produce jump shots.
  • What happened to Odom? He is a good shooter, but was Lamar sleepy or what? He was a pedestrian with 7 points, only 5 shot attempts in 29 minutes. This guy has to be big if the Lakers are going to be and for him to disappear on the road is surprising. I subscribe to theory that stars play almost the same at home and away, and it's the average and young guys that fluctuate. Odom is too good to disappear like this.
  • Insanity! Phil Jackson signed on for two more years for a reported $24 Million. What the heck is going on? Phil has had some amazing benefits in his coaching career - big money, big stars, and now dates the owner's daughter while earning $12 Mil per year with little prospect of getting out of the first round. Sure, he spouts enough philosophy to keep some lunatics in line - BUT has had the pleasure to always have at least one of the top 3 players in the league on his team, and at times has had two of the top 10 at the same time.
In closing, this game was terrible fun for Jazz fans. With two stars out - the Jazz saw their remaining stars DWill and AK just take over and the team as a whole played very unselfish team ball the whole night. Williams ball-handling was an amazing display. Poor Farmar and Fisher got absolutely scored in the 2nd quarter. All the bench guys stepped up big and just hammered the Lakers. Los Angeles has to be very embarrassed by this display.

Want to read on the opponents? I'd recommend The Forum Blue and Gold to get a lot of good content and comments on the Lakers. Up next for the Jazz is Miami, you can peak ahead at the Heat by reading some strong stuff on the MVN's Miami Heat Blog - Crazy From The Heat.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Jazz Finish Eastern Booz' Cruise

The Jazz wrapped up their week long trip to the East Coast with a 106-95 victory (box score) over the Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday Night. The win meant the Jazz finished a solid 2-1 on the trip, and improved to 5-4 on the road this season. After the Jazz opened the trip with a win at Detroit, a sweep seemed possible - so the loss to the Knicks was a disappointment.

Booz' Cruisin on the East Coast
Carlos Boozer missing a shot on the the 3 game trip was a rare thing. That is not much of an exaggeration, considering the numbers he piled up:

Philly: 12-17 FG, 26 points 7 rebs
New York: 12-18 FG, 30 points, 12 rebs
Detroit: 17-20 FG, 36 points 11 rebs
The Tally for the Eastern Cruise - a whopping 41-55 for 74.5% from the field, while averaging 10 rebounds per game.

The 76ers have some pieces to the puzzle, but not nearly enough talent to battle the big boys. After starting the season 2-2, they've now dropped 8 of the last 10 games to land at 4-10 and in the basement of the Atlantic Division.

Since the Jazz don't see the Sixers often - let's answer the question - who are these guys? Really they have three guys worth noting, and then a bunch of spare parts.

The Big 3 from my perspective - not in order:

Andre Miller - I'm still a Miller fan and think a pass first guard helps any team. That said, I could see them dealing him at some point this season to a competing team that faces a PG injury.

Andre Iguodola - AI, the 2nd is of course a well rounded athlete who is the star of the team. On this night he had 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists, but only took 12 shots. He isn't the type of player who does well in the half court however, and therefore didn't get a lot shots he wanted. In the open court he is big time.

Kyle Korver - Beside being Ashton Kutcher's look-a-like, Mr. Korver is a long range assassin - so says his rep anyway. In the game against the Jazz he had trouble making anything - in fact, this might have been Kutcher covering for Kyle. Korver was 1-9 from the field, and only 1-6 from 3 point range. Before you assume it was him having to deal with the athletic duo of Kirilenko and Ronnie Brewer think again. Half of Korver's misses where wide open 3s that the Jazz almost seemed content with him taking. Looking at KKorver's numbers on the season, you notice he's only 39% from the field and 37% from downtown. I like the guy - but geez - half his FG attempts this year are from behind the Arc and he's not impressing anyone.

Other warm bodies:
Samuel Dalembert - Solid young big man who averages 11 points and 8 rebounds.
Willie Green - Another double figure scorer (11pts), but awful FG% (38%) and poor assist to turnover ratio of 1.10 to 1.0.
Reggie Evans - Just over 4 points and 8 rpg - a defensive hustler with no offensive game.

The next best player on the Sixers is clearly Maurice Cheeks - the coach and former all-start guard. That means it's going to be a long season in Philadelphia.

Quick Shots:
  • The stat of the night? The Jazz assisted on 32 of their 39 field goals. Deron Williams passed out 15 assists in what was at times just beautiful team basketball.
  • Ronnie Brewer won't be a secret much longer. He tallied 19 points and 3 more steals as he continues to be 2nd in the league in steals, while shooting well over 50% on the season.
  • 3 NBA teams are winless on the road: Knicks, Sacramento, and Portland.
  • 1 NBA team is winless at home: Seattle is 0-6. With the city of Seattle deciding not to fund a new arena - and the Sonics deciding not to compete in the existing arena - maybe Stern will step in and let them head to Oklahoma City a little early - say after the all star break?
  • Didn't see this coming#1 - Boston is 11-2, and I thought they'd be good but this is amazing. Still, let's give them some time. They have played 10 of 13 games in the Eastern Conference.
  • Didn't see this coming#2 - The Bulls are 3-10? What the heck is going on? Maybe Pippen should have come back. Did they offend their whole team when they tried to trade them all away for Kobe?
Up Next for the Jazz are the Lakers at the ESA Friday Night. Phil's triangle makin' boys are 8-6 and playing reasonably well with Kobe doing the scoring and Andrew Bynam growing in to his high trade value at quick pace. To read up on the Lakers, I'd suggest the Forum Blue and Gold.

I don't make a lot of predictions - but I think the Jazz avenge an early season loss and take the Lakers by 10+ on Friday night.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Knicks are Ugly, Selfish, Non-Coached, but Winners

The Knicks beat the Jazz in the Garden last night 113-109 (boxscore), giving New York it's 2nd straight win and once again proving that life on the road in the NBA can result in many surprises.

I think the New York and Utah battle was very much a battle of Good and Evil. The Jazz who play team first ball with some structure are Good. The Knicks who play an ugly one-on-one style game with very little structure are Bad. Therefore - a biased, Jazz first mentality leads to many quick thoughts....

  • Rest is Good. The Knicks have been at home since Thanksgiving, and were off since Saturday waiting for the Jazz game. Utah was playing a back to back road game and didn't arrive with the defensive energy it need to stop the Knicks. The result - the lack of rest is either a loser's excuse, or a benefit to an idle home team.
  • A cardboard cutout of Luke Skywalker could coach this team as well as Isaiah. The Knicks winning had nothing to do with scheme, play calling, or the type of suit that Isaiah thought would provide the best balance of the late fall season - yet contrast to the road team's uniforms. Down the stretch when the game was tight, Cardboard Cutout guy could have called as many plays as Thomas. Instead, whoever happened to get the ball would go one on one. It worked for one night, and might work a few nights at home or against the weak Eastern Conference. Congrats to Cardboard Cutout Guy!
  • Making Shots is Bad.The fact that some of these awful shots went in for New York will do nothing but convince some of their players to keep taking them. Zach Randolph had a terrific shooting night. He made some tough shots. Truth is - he is a black hole who took some dumb shots. On this night they went in. The bad thing is - Zach thinks he should keep taking them. The ball doesn't move and the Knicks are easier to guard when he is in the game. Zach making dumb shots is bad.
  • Crawford and Richardson are Square. Okay, not square but not well rounded. How about 1-D, as in one dimensional. In 76 minutes of combined playing time the teamed up for a total of 2 rebounds and 3 assists. I guess it's a style of play to get some talented offensive guys and ask them to shoot the ball, but don't require anything else.
  • One Way Only. Fallen Star-bury played a nice game, on ONE end of the floor. Guess which one? Well, he played no defense on DWill, and a couple times go burned so bad he wouldn't even be in frame for a poster. Still, on offense he was motivated, agressive and when he was creating - the Knicks where tough. He did a great job of getting his shoulder in front of Deron Williams a couple times and drawing fouls or getting into the lane to create for others.
Up Next for the Jazz are the 76ers in Philly tomorrow night. The 76ers feature a couple of my favorite NBAers to watch - Andre Miller, a former University of Utah player who still favors team first ball, and Kyle Korver one of the best long range bombers in the league. The Jazz need the win to finish the 3 game trip at 2-1. To read up on the 76ers, I'd suggest Passion and Pride, a solid blog on the MVN.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Jazz Beat Detroit for 5th Straight Time

When I think of the Detroit Pistons, I think of two strengths - their tough defense and the talent of their starting five. Unfortunately for the Pistons, neither element was on display Sunday afternoon as the Jazz handed Detroit their first home loss of the season 103-93 (box score). For the Pistons, Rasheed Wallace missed the game and the Detroit missed his defensive spark and overall intensity. The Jazz trailed by 8 in the second quarter, went on a run and pretty much never gave up control after that. At the end, the Jazz beat the Pistons for the 5th straight time (3 in Detroit) and ran their win streak to 3 games and totaled their 8th win in 10 games.

Boozer Near Perfect
There were several bright spots for the Jazz - but none brighter than Mr. Carlos Boozer, who posted a season high 36 points, on an eye-popping 17 of 20 from the field. Boozer hit everything - some layups and put backs (8-8) and an array of jumpers (9-12) over a variety of defenders - check out the shot chart. Not having Wallace to guard Boozer was a big thing in this game. Though we all know how Rasheed can be - he could have very well gotten frustrated by the Jazz offense, landed in foul trouble and picked up a technical or two. Funny thing about Wallace- he must have felt left out and contributed a technical while on the bench in street clothes.

As a side note - the referees were not the Pistons' problem. The Pistons were actually called for 6 fewer fouls on the night, and the call that got Flip Saunders tossed was a correct call - though I had the advantage of replay and Flip tried to make a judgement all the way down the court and had a over-reacting player that probably swayed his viewpoint.

DWill vs. CBill
One of the other bright spots was Deron Williams, who handled Chauncey Billups in a similar fashion as he did Jason Kidd a few nights ago. Meaning - taking another of his US National Teammates to task with a one sided result. To be fair, CBill's game was not the disaster that Jason Kidd posted against Williams, as Billups tallied 15 points and 6 assists falling just short of his season averages of 17 and 8. Deron Williams on the other hand was brilliant with 21 points and 14 assists, while adding 4 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. A couple of Deron's baskets were the result of his quick pushing the ball up the court and then exploiting Billups or Rip Hamilton in a one on one match-up. Watch-out NBA, DWill might have been soft for a few games with the sore toe, but as he said tonight - he is pain free for the 1st time in two weeks.

Detroit Pistons forward Jason Maxiell (54) has his shot blocked by Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko (47), of Russia, in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Nov. 25, 2007, in Auburn Hills, Mich. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Quick Shots:

  • The Piston game was the first of a stretch that includes 12 of 16 road games for the Jazz.
  • Ronnie Brewer is a relentless cutter without the ball and a terrific finisher. Today was the 13th time in double figures - out of 14 games. He was 4-6 from the field and 3-3 from the line - check out his shot chart - and notice were all the makes are.
  • AK47 posted 11 points and 10 rebounds, but only one block. The one block would say that he wasn't a defensive force - but if you saw the game you saw him contest and alter shots all day.
  • Want to see NBA confidence in action? Memo Okur finished the game with 12 points and hit a couple of big hoops in the 2nd half. But, Why in the Heck was he still shooting? I believe Memo was 1-10 at the half, but went 3-6 in the 2nd as he kept taking the shots that came to him within the offense. I count it as trust in himself and trust by the coaching staff.
  • Detroit's starting guards - Hamilton and Billups combined for 11-30 shooting. That is a lot of shots, a lot of misses, and wow are these guys going to need some help off the bench at some point in the year. When they aren't hitting shots, who can they turn to? Bueller? Bueller?
Up next, the New York Knicks - tomorrow night in Madison Square Garden. After a chance to witness the train wreck known as the Knicks up close and personal, the Jazz will move on to Philly on Wednesday and then close out the week at home with Kobe and Lakers Friday Night.

To read up on the Knicks, I recommend for not only good writing, but an analytical view into how the Knicks are doing. Check out the 4 Factors they track for each game.

My Quick Take on the Knicks - from a distance without seeing much of them:
The Knicks have a bunch of guys if you looked at on paper, by themselves, appear to be very talented. However, mix them together on a court at one time and you have no chemistry, no flow, not enough balls, not much defense, not much rebounding, and not many wins. Looking at some official league stats you can see the Knicks are 2nd to last in the NBA in assists per game, 27th in FG%, 26th in point differential (-7.3 OUCH), 26th in 3pt FG%, 28th in turnovers per game, and last in the league in blocks. I won't even start on Isaiah Thomas who has done little off the court to warrant employment of any kind. I'm still trying to decide if I feel bad for the owner of the Knicks, or if he is simply having to deal with the results of some very bad decisions. Either way, in order to truly start again the Knicks will have to write another coach a big check in order to leave town (see Larry 'newtown' Brown).

All this means of course that it's the NBA, the Jazz are playing road games on back-to-back nights, and for all my comments - the Knicks might pull the upset. The keyword there is MIGHT. If the Jazz youngsters stay in their system and rely on each other, we may well get to see a few more cars fall off the track in New York.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Jazz Squash Pesky Hornets

The final score of Saturday's Utah Jazz and New Orleans Hornets game is misleading to those who missed the first half of the game. Utah's 99-71 victory (box score) looked very much in doubt for most of the first half - as New Orleans led nearly through the first two quarters and owned a 5 point lead just a few minutes before half. The Jazz however, scored the final 6 points of the first half and the first 6 of the second half and never lost control.

Think about the two halves this way...
First Half Hornets - as defines a hornet, "A large stinging wasp". Wiki chimes in with "typically stings multiple times. Doesn't die after stinging. Capable of biting and stinging at the same time". Those were the Hornets that played at the ESA in the first half - while shooting badly, they were tenacious on defense and very tough on the boards.

Second Half Hornets? Think Bee movie. The Hornets, after trailing by one at intermission, got lit up 55-28 in the 2nd half and tied an all-time Hornet record for fewest points in a 4th quarter (7). The Hornets record for the fewest points in any quarter is 6 points (vs. Milwaukee in 1996). In case you are wondering about the fewest points the Jazz have given up in a quarter - it's also 6 (Detroit in 205).

Other Jazz Notes:
  • Battle at the Point - Deron Williams and Chris Paul both had some nice moments at the point. DWill blew by Chris Paul 3 different times to end up with a layup, while Paul show some slipperiness off of screens and nice kicks to the wings. The truth is however, that Williams was slowed most of the game with foul trouble and a sore toe that he had an in-grown toenail removed earlier in the week. Paul never really got on track offensively, but stilled ended with solid 15pts, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.
  • Why don't these Hornets run the ball? The have a point guard built for speed in Paul, they have shooters for the wing (Stojakovic and Mo. Peterson), and two seemingly mobile big men in West and Tyson Chandler. What gives? I'm not asking for them to abandon their defense and rebounding strengths, but why not push it a bit more. New Orleans has scored 100 or more only 5 times in 14 games - very surprising.
  • Clunk, Clunk, Clunk - that was your replay of the shooting exhibition that Peja Stojakovic, Bobby Jackson, and Morris Peterson put on, going a combined 2-19 from the field and and 1-12 from 3pt range. You must admit, these guys don't lack confidence as they kept firing away. If I remember correctly, one of these mis-guided missiles hit Memhet Okur in the head.
  • David West is a nice player. In the first half he had 13 points and owned the glass. In the 2nd half the Jazz collapsed with a zone and let the Hornets continue to hoist outside shots.
  • Back-up Point Guard Problems? Jason Hart has caught a lot of fire for this 3.8 ppg and 34% shooting early in the season, while he tries to handle the back-up point guard position. On this night, Hart and fellow reserve guard, Ronnie Price, nearly stole the show as they combined for 23 points on 9-13 shooting, including 5-7 from 3pt range in over 34 minutes of combined play.
Up next for the Jazz are the Pistons, in Detroit on Sunday. Detroit leads the Central division with a 8-4 record, including 4-0 at home. Utah, however, has won 4 straight games against the Pistons. To read up on Detroit, I recommend an interesting Piston blog - Detroit Bad Boys.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Jazz Scorch the Nets - look ahead to Hornets

Monday night the Utah Jazz played their final game before the Thanksgiving holiday and had to be thankful for the feast that awaited them. The New Jersey Nets came into the game, having only played 2 of their 10 games this season on the road. To say they look uncomfortable and out of their element in Energy Solutions Arena would be an understatement. The Jazz on the other hand looked completely at home and hammered the Nets 102-75 (box score). New Jersey played again without Vince Carter and when he isn't on the floor they do not appear to have an NBA ready offense.

Many Jazz fans wanted to see this game for the match-up between Jason Kidd and Deron Williams. Williams who grew up in Dallas, Texas and idolized Kidd, certainly got the best of this battle. Kidd who came into the game nearly averaging a triple double - 10 points, 10 assists, and 9 rebounds - was held amazingly in check. Kidd sat out the 4th quarter of the blowout, but was dominated by Williams on the court and in the stat sheet.

Knocking off the Idol

Kidd: 1-9 FG, 0-4 3pt FG, 2 pts, 2 rebs, 8 asst, 6 TOs, in 28 mins.
DWill: 8-11 FG, 2-3 3pt FG, 20 pts, 4 rebs, 6 asst, 4 TOs, in 34 mins.

Williams assist numbers have dropped a little in recent weeks, but much of it has to do with the team approach the Jazz employ. Often Williams will deliver the ball, and the the teammate rather than taking a good shot, will make another pass for a even better shot. It's a beautiful thing to watch, even if it isn't the best in stat land.

Up next for the Jazz, the impressive New Orleans Hornets. It's impossible to talk about this game without jumping into the Chris Paul vs., Deron Williams debate. The key thing - both guys are supremely talented and are the future at the PG position in the NBA. In Utah we certainly wouldn't trade DWill for CP3, but the Hornets fans probably feel the same way about their guy. At the end of the day, the Jazz picked first and took the bigger, more rugged guard in Deron, while leaving the speedster Paul for the Hornets. One stat that validates the Jazz selection is durability. In just over two seasons, Deron Williams has only missed 4 Jazz games (2.3% of Utah's games), while Chris Paul has missed 24 Hornet games (13.6%).

To read ahead on the Hornets, I recommend, a strong site featuring the thoughts and opinions of Ron Hitley.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Jazz go flat in Indy, drop 2nd in a row

The Jazz had one of those games Saturday night. A few times per year the NBA schedule delivers a situation where you play a back to back games, with both games on the road and come out flat. The home team hits a few 3-point field goals, and you don't have the energy to fight back and get things on track. The Utah Jazz were blown out by the Pacers, 117-97 (box score) in a game where Indiana pretty much did whatever they wanted the entire night.

How bad was it? You can be challenged to find a single Jazz player who had a good night. Kirilenko might be the only one you can say had anything at all - with 12 points, 5 blks, 3 rebs, and 4 assists. Virtually every statistic that is recorded went in favor of the Pacers. The Jazz were out shot (58% to 47%), out rebounded (35-31), out assisted (29-20), committed more turnovers (20-18), made fewer steals ( 11-6), made fewer blocks (7-5), made fewer 3-pointers (11-2) and took fewer freethrows (28-22). If I was searching deep for things Indiana didn't do right, I'd come up with the fact that the Jazz outscored the Pacers by 3 in the 4th Quarter (as if that mattered) and just over 12,000 fans decided to show in Pacerville.

So a road trip that look like a possible sweep, ended up at 1-2. The Jazz battled hard, and could have won in Cleveland, but then mailed it in Saturday night. What observations can we make about the Jazz after this 3 game trip?

  • At times, the Jazz executed so well - looking like a veteran and well-oiled machine. Thinking primarly about stretches of the Toronto game, and then the final few minutes of Cleveland as the Jazz almost stole the game.
  • At times, the Jazz revert back to a youthful team that has more faith in the individual than in the team system, breaking the offense with forced shots and passes.
  • Deron Williams is human. After a terrific start to the season, he laid two eggs in the final two games of the trip - going 7-25 from the field, averaging 9.5 points, and totally 10 assists and 8 turnovers.
  • Despite these two games, the Jazz duo Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer have been very consistent and both have essentially the exact scoring averages on the road as they do at home. Boozer averages 25 ppg and DWill averages 17 ppg at home and on the road. Typically younger players - usually the non-stars, do well at home, but struggle on the road. This can be seen as a sign of maturing for both players.
Clearly the disappoint thing with the Pacer game, is that Indiana had a 6-game losing streak and probably would have been an easy win if the Jazz jumped on them early. Good teams learn when they can take out a weaker team and don't give them life.

The Jazz return home for the New Jersey Nets Monday Night. The Nets are 4-6, and a full 5 games behind the undefeated Boston Celtics. This is bad for the Nets since they've played 8 of their first 10 games on the road. To read ahead on Nets, I'd recommend Joe as good Net's blog.

Friday, November 16, 2007

King James says no to Booz

Utah's dynamic duo, Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, almost stole another game from Lebron James. With the Jazz trailing by 2 points, Utah ran another pick-and-roll to perfection. Well almost - until the King stepped in. As Boozer turned to toss in a short jumper, Lebron swooped in and stole the ball. Cleveland made their free throws and went on to win 99-94 (box score), ending Utah's five game winning streak.

The story again was Lebron James, who ended one assist from a triple double and scored 34 of his 40 points in the 2nd half. Still, the Jazz duo almost took this game. Trailing by 7 with just over two minutes to go, Williams and Boozer combined for 9 points in the final two minutes with a variety of moves from their trusted pick and roll set-up. In the end it wasn't enough and Cleveland protected the home court. Just a week and a half ago, Deron Williams drove the length of the court for a basket to edge Cavs 103-101.

Cleveland continues to play close games while missing key players: Larry "Spiderman" Hughes, Eric Snow, and Donyell Marshall to injuries - and want to be key player Anderson Varejao continues to holdout. You must give a lot of credit to coach Mike Brown and the leadership of the Lebron James for keeping this team together while missing so many key parts.

Quick Shots:
  • King James gets most of the ESPN attention, but Cleveland does not win this game without their commitment to defense, and especially some big block shots by Illgauskas. Deron Williams for the Jazz shot 4-17, but had several shots blocked as he easily blew by Gibson, only to have his lay-ups rejected by the Big Z.
  • Typical night in the NBA - home team seems to get the benefit of enough whistles in the 2nd half to allow some momentum changing runs to continue. Most noticeable was a couple exchanges with Harpring down low in the 4th quarter not getting a call, then getting called for petty over the back and a charge shortly thereafter. In the end, the Jazz were whistled for 26 fouls and the Cavs only 17.
  • A couple things that make Lebron so great - forget the 40 points, because their are some scorers in this league - but you can miss the his commitment to passing and his willingness to play defense. He was credited with 3 blocked shots and no steals - it feels like a few of each might have been missed - and you could see him talking on defense and keeping his team on track.
  • The 6 assists by Okur were impressive. Career High? Nope - he had against Philly in the '05-06 season, and twice has posted 7 assists.
  • Who is the starting shooting guard going to be? 2nd year player, Ronnie Brewer has stepped up and seized the job. Brewer has scored in double figures in all 10 games and is shooting 54% from the field.
Up next - Indiana tomorrow night at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Pacers at 3-6 will be playing their 4th game in 5 nights, while the Jazz will play their 3rd in 4 nights. To read ahead on the Pacers, check out a pretty interesting blog - Indy Cornrows, part of the SBNation NBA coverage.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Jazz run streak to 5 games

In Toronto, the Utah Jazz executed down the stretch again and left with a 92-88 (box score) victory over the Raptors. The win pushed their winning streak to 5 games and an overall record of 7-2. It was a pretty tight game all along, but toward the end of the game, the Jazz executed better to win to hold on to the lead.

The difference in the game? The box score would say the game was pretty even, but the Jazz shot the ball better (43% to 39%), got to the line more (29 attempts to 12), and Chris Bosh was extremely quiet with only 12 points. All that is accurate, but what the numbers don't clearly say, is that this game was there for the taking. The Raptors, either by poor on the court leadership or lack of coaching, didn't do what they should have done to try and take it.

Let's start with leadership and the point guard position. T.J. Ford did not get it done. The big disclaimer, since I don't see him play much - is that he could have had an off night, or Deron Williams could have simply been too much for the guy - but regardless, some of his decisions are ridiculous. Consider late in the game when the Raptors needed a 3 to tie, he simply refused to run a play and pass the ball to a better shooter (hello Kapano). Sure, Ford had made a 3 a few minutes prior, but that was an off balance fall away shot that was luck and maybe falsely built his confidence. His line of 13 points and 8 rebounds make it sound like he was a big contributor, but his 5 of 17 shooting (1-6 from3-pt range) and inability to get the ball to other people at big times reveal him as a weakness on this team. OR - of course, just a rare bad night.

Let's look at coaching. On the bright side, the Raptors are scrappy on defense, they don't give up, and rebound very well. In fact, out rebounding the Jazz 50-46 says a great deal about how they work. That said, Sam Mitchell, last season's coach of the year (never mind it should have been Sloan - so says the biased Jazz writer) doesn't seem to be utilizing his biggest asset. The only guy on this roster that strikes fear in the opponents is Chris Bosh, yet Bosh only took 12 shots? Keep in mind, he was guarded much of the night by Boozer - who isn't the best defender at this position. A fundamental question - why does Bosh spend so much time on the perimeter? Bosh is off to a slow start this year, and since I've heard nothing about health, I can only think that the coach might want to consider an offense that runs through his star.

Quick shots:
  • Andrei Kirilenko is on a tear, consider his averages over the last 4 games: 12 ppg., 9.3 reb., 9.8 apg., 3.3 stl., and 2.5 blks. A big thing about Kirilenko is his passing. He now has 5 games with 8 or more assists - out of 9 games, and is averaging 7.1 apg - which is out of this world for any forward not name Lebron. Great to see AK and the Jazz rewarded for their patience and effort to work things out.
  • Vegas had the Raptors favored by 2. I would have guessed Utah favored by 2-3. Apparently, Vegas wasn't impressed with the 6-2 Jazz. Toronto entered the game at 4-3, but just 1-2 at home.
  • Kris Humphries - a former Jazzman, seems to have found a home with the Raptors - and put up 14 big rebounds off the bench.
  • The 92 points scored by the Jazz were a season low (previous low was 95), and only the second time they've been held to under 100.
  • Matt Harpring missed the game with the flu. AK and Giricek took care of the extra minutes in fine fashion.
Next stop: Cleveland on Friday. This game should be a tense and tight game. The Jazz squeaked out a close game last week in Salt Lake City. Another reason for interest - the town of Cleveland still gets very up for Mr. Carlos Boozer. To prep for this game, I recommend Cavalier Attitude -a great NBA blog on the MVN.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The No-Name Kings bow to Jazz

The Utah Jazz took care of the Sacramento Kings 117-93, to move to 6-2 on the season and remain one game ahead of the Denver Nuggets. The Jazz feature a starting line-up that is probably 80% known by most NBA fans, and if Ronnie Brewer keeps up his solid play - the entire starting line-up will be a known entity (For the record: Boozer, Kirilenko, Okur and Deron Williams are the other starters).

The Kings on the other hand, start a grab-bag of no-names. C'mon, think about it, how many Kings can you name right now? If you follow the game- you'd probably come up with Kevin Martin, the up-coming shooting guard. However, you'd be wrong if you also included Ron Artest, Brad Miller and Mike Bibby - as all three are either injured or suspended. The other 4 starters for the Kings? See bottom of this post.

The Kings, led by first year coach and former NBA player, Reggie Theus stuck with their passing and outside shooting game the entire night. At times the Jazz were on the verge of blowing out the Kings, but each time the Kings rallied to cut the lead to around 10-12 points. In the end, the lack of a post game, a non-existent defense, and a reliance on the outside shots finally did in the Kings and the Jazz coasted down the stretch. Looking at the post game stats you'll see the Kings launched jump-shots on 61 of their 78 shots (78%) - even for a good shooting team, that won't hold up on the road very often.

Another Question - who is the NBA's top scoring team? Okay not to drag it out - the Jazz are #1 in scoring and continue to get great shots. A popular myth is that Jerry Sloan runs a slow structured offense. The truth is the Jazz run and move the ball as well as anyone, but they do so within a structure and don't launch too many 3-pt shots. A surprise when looking at the rankings of top scoring teams, is that the Suns aren't currently in the top 5 (instead it's the Jazz, Lakers, Warriors, Celtics and Nuggets). The Suns will get there, but it's clear without Amare Stoudamire, they aren't running on all cylinders. You also tend to wonder how long Shawn Marion continues to fit in and play nice. So far he is shooting nearly 50% from the field and averaging 16 points per game, which sounds good on the surface, until you realize it would be his lower ppg average since his rookie season (he is now in 9th NBA season).

Answer to the question above: King starters - Kevin Martin, John Salmons, Mikki Moore, Kenny Thomas and Francisco Garcia.

Quick Shots:
  • Deron Williams was very quiet, scoring only 6 points and posting 7 assists. In truth, he wasn't needed, as when the starters were in the game - the Jazz were in control and Deron never need to assert himself.
  • Boozer racked up 32 points and 10 rebounds, while shooting 13-18 from the field. Boozer, now averaging over 25 points per game has picked up where he left off in last season's playoffs.
  • AK47 is filling the box score in huge ways this season. Tonight - 15 points, 8 rebs, 8 assists, and 3 blocks, while flying all over the court.
  • Kings starting big men - Moore and Thomas, combined for 8 fouls and only 5 points on a combined 2-8 shooting in 60 minutes of court time.
The Jazz venture off on the Road with a 3 game trip, stopping in Toronto, Cleveland, and Indiana. To read up on the Raptors, I recommend the Raptors Den a pretty good blog on the MVN.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Jazz Take What NBA Schedule Gives

The Jazz beat the Memphis Grizzlies 118-94 (boxscore) Saturday night and accepted the gift that the NBA schedule periodically provides - and that is a home game on a back to back night for both teams in a match-up that the home team would be a solid favorite on neutral site with ample rest anyway. You could see this one coming - and I did, predicting Utah to score over 115 points and win by more than 15 points.

The Jazz continue to use turnovers to fuel a great deal of their offense. Utah has scored over 100 points in 6 of 7 games this season, and used 25 Memphis turnovers to easily surpass the century mark again. The Grizzlies spread around their inefficiency - as 10 of the 12 players who played, had one or more turnovers. Talk about playing hot potato.

The things Memphis has done in the past to hurt Utah were non-existent. A game committed working Gasol in the post? Nope, Gasol only scored 11 points on 3 of 8 shooting. Mike Miller bombing away from the parking lot? Nope, Miller did have 12 rebounds, but only fired twice from 3-pt range and missed them both. Damon Stoudamire turning back the clock again for another big performance? Nope, Damon only played 11 minutes and contributed more turnovers (4) than points (3). Memphis obviously looked tired, but based on a one game evaluation - I have no idea who they are or what the are trying to accomplish yet.

Something I thought in the past - that still seems to make some sense: The Jazz and the Grizzlies could change nicknames. Don't get me wrong, the Jazz have built a reputation and history with their nickname, so it won't ever happen. But, it would make some sense. With Beal Street in Memphis, there is a lot more Jazz music there than in Salt Lake City. And forget about Grizzlies - the only bear you are likely to see in the state of Tennessee would be at the city zoo.

The Jazz get one more very winnable home game against Sacramento Monday night, and then begin a stretch of 6 out of 8 road games. If you want to read ahead on the Sacramento game, I think the Sactown Royalty is one of the better blogs on the Kings.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Jazz Keep Sonics Winless

The Utah Jazz beat the Sonics 103-101 Friday night in Seattle. Making it the 2nd straight game that the Jazz have won by the identical score - the other being the Cleveland game on Wednesday night. While the Jazz got the win they expected, it wasn't as easy as it looked on paper and several observations can be made after watching the game unfold.

  • The Jazz can be very good at times. However, at times they show that they are still pretty young are erratic. Several times the Jazz had a chance to blow this game open, and while you could argue it was the Sonics fighting back that kept it close - it's mostly that the Jazz couldn't sustain the momentum and execute the very things that provided the lead.
  • The Sonics can be good and you wonder how they are winless. Most of the time they looked young and very average, but at times you could see some strong pieces are already in place - Wilcox gives them something in the post. Collison gives the hustle. The Rookie Green doesn't get the hype, but is very legit.
  • Kevin Durant is a terrific athlete and but very raw. He can get a shot off at any time and can penetrate pretty well. However, his point per game average seems to be primarily the result of hoisting a lot of shots. Most of which are not good shots and some come from ridiculous distance. I realize the lack of maturity he has should be expected from such a young guy - but I think people need to give him time to climb up on the pedastal before putting him there unearned. This kid is future all-star, but right now he is an athletic gunner.
  • Kirilenko is playing with passion. His passing, his defense, his hustle are all game changers and in spurts he is unlike any other player on the floor. At this point, I give a lot of credit to the Jazz for maintaining their composure when all signs pointed to trading him in the off season. Kirilenko is doing his part an not pouting.
  • Point Guard play is sporadic at best for the Sonics. Delonte West was good in the 4th, but he seems best when he gets to shoot. Last night his shots went in so he looked good, but I wonder if that type of play is best for this young team. Earl Watson is just limited and while could help the supporting cast, is hardly starter material in this league.
Memo to the NBA, the owners of the Sonics, the City of Seattle, and the fans of Seattle: Can't we all just get along? Why must so many machismo statements be made about do this or else? I don't think anyone will win by moving the team out of Seattle. Sure, I haven't followed this story - I'd recommend reading for more of the history - but to move the team because it feels like the NFL and MLB were treated better by the city seems unfair. For crying out loud, Key arena was refurbished in a big way only what 15 years ago? Since then the city has built baseball and football stadiums. Maybe the NBA should negotiate something 5-6 years down the road and let the good people of Seattle catch their breath before demanding more money for Billionaire sports owners. That - or pull a Larry Miller and try to self finance your own arena. The Energy Solutions Arena (formerly Delta Center), still looks like new because the superior on-going maintenance - and that arena I believe is in it's 16th season. Instead of committing to a long term solution in Seattle, all the parties throw ultimatums around that will result in no team in Seattle. That would be a sad sad thing. No offense to Oklahoma City, because they stepped up when they had a shot - but how about that being a location for a team that isn't being supported - and leave the Sonics and their history where it belongs?

Next up for the Jazz - the Memphis Grizzlies at home. I expect 115+ points for the Jazz and if they play with some consistency tonight, a 15 point margin of victory. Read more about Memphis on a pretty good blog - the Grizzlies Locker.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Sweet Music by Ronnie, Milsap

The second year of an NBA career often produces what is called the "sophomore slump" in many players. Fortunately for the Jazz, their two sophomores, Ronnie Brewer and Paul Milsap, led Utah to an exciting 103-101 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night.

Brewer and Milsap are off to great starts in their second seasons, quickly dispelling the notion of a sophomore slump. Brewer is perhaps the biggest surprise and after 5 games is averaging 16 points per game, shooting 60% from the field, and contributing big on defense with just over 3 steals per game. Quite the contrast to his rookie season when he only appeared in 56 games and scored just over 4 points per game. For Milsap, it was a career high in scoring with 24 points, raising his season average to over 11 per game (compared to 5.9 in his rookie year).

You have to credit the Cavaliers for hanging around and staying in the game. You can't argue with the fact that they just didn't play their best game. They were out-shot, out-rebounded, and out hustled for most of the night. However some big shots down the stretch from the perimeter kept them in the game. When Lebron hit a huge 3-pointer with 6 seconds left to tie the game, it seemed like the Cavs where going to win a game they had no business winning. Then a quick inbounds pass caught the Cavs defense relaxing, and Deron Williams drove the length of the court for the winning lay-up with just over one second remaining.

Related Reading: A pretty good Cleveland Cavaliers blog can be found at the MVN.

Quick Shots:
  • While Brewer and Milsap stole the show, Boozer and Williams still put up some good numbers. Boozer produced 23 points and 12 rebounds, and Williams posted 15 points and 12 assists. To be fair Williams did have 8 turnovers as he seemed a little out of sync at times and forced a few bad passes.
  • One myth is melting away - and that is that old school Jerry Sloan doesn't play young guys. Milsap and Brewer are both making major contributions in their second year, and you have to credit Sloan for building maturity beyond their years in Boozer and Williams. Maybe a more accurate statement is that Sloan doesn't play young players - if they aren't good enough yet.
  • At 3-2, the Jazz are off to a solid start. Given that all 5 games have been against NBA playoff teams from last year.
  • The Jazz entered this game leading the NBA in scoring with an average of 113 points per game. It's a wonder what playing the defenseless Golden St. Warriors two times can do for you.
Up Next: The Jazz travel to Seattle Friday night for their first view of top rookie Kevin Durant. To learn more about the Sonics, read one of the best NBA blogs on the web: SuperSonicSoul - where you'll find some great stats and writing. The Sonics may stink, but this blog does not!