Ain’t no Jazz in Utah
Last week the Hornets got some hype, some All-Star love, first place in the West, and then promptly forget everything that had gotten them to that position. The last two games were pretty ugly, with the Hornets clearly thinking their newfound offensive prowess was going to win the games for them.
Sorry guys, you're a defensive team first. Rotate. Move your feet.
Despite the shock most of us spoiled Hornets fans felt after losing after nine straight wins, neither game was a total disaster, and if they re-focus on the defensive end, they can get back on track. Unfortunately, their opponent tonight is no easy nut to crack.
The Utah Jazz are on an eight game winning streak, stand at a tidy 20-3 at home, and sport a great differential of +5.8 points per game, fourth best in the West. Their offense is a buzzsaw, and they shoot an amazing 49% from the floor. The subplot to watch in this game be the fouls. The Hornets never foul or are fouled. The Jazz foul all the time, and are fouled all the time. If there are lots of free-throws going on, it may be good for us because of our shooting percentages, but it's probably bad in the long run because that means we're playing their game.
The last matchup between these two teams was an ugly early-season pounding 99-71 in Utah. Hopefully we can knock them on their ass and get revenge.
PG: Deron Williams v Chris Paul
Jazz Fans will never accept this. That's fine. Deron is strong, has fast feet, and cleverly orchestrates his team's offense. He's also an incredible shooter. Defensively, he's big. That's about it. Remember the playoffs last year, when Baron Davis hammered home that dunk over Andrei Kirilenko? Do you know who was guarding Baron? Deron Williams – who I think was trying to start a girly slap fight with Baron as he drove by. Take a look. Paul may not be big, but he's a gamer on defense – post players have trouble posting him up because of his energy, and he's a careful ballhawk who rarely gambles yet still gets big numbers. Oh – and he's pretty good offensively too.
SG: Ronnie Brewer v Morris Peterson
In my previous evaluation of 5th-option scorers amongst starters, Ronnie Brewer floated to the top as probably the most efficient and skilled of the bunch. In fact, in just a week since I posted that, he's surpassed Andrei Kirilenko as an offensive option on his team. It should be no surprise, the guy shoots an amazing 54%, getting the most out of the Jazz motion offense. He has no range at all from downtown, but his inside game and defense make up for it. Morris's shooting woes loosened up a little in the Sacramento game, which is good, because we'll need something from him besides his usual good defense to crack these Jazz.
SF: Andrei Kirilenko v Peja Stojakovic
A few weeks ago, I'd have given this to the Jazz. Kirilenko does a little of everything – rebounding, assisting, freakish defending. His biggest weakness, shooting, has been much improved this year, and he's a handful out there. Peja has been huge, however, over the last few weeks. He hasn't told any reporters his back was bothering him for a long time, and his shooting and defense have been better than at any other point this season. If he keeps up this form, I'll be extremely happy.
PF: Carlos Boozer v Sir Fluffalot
A battle of two all-star forwards. Both were declared under-sized and unathletic coming out of college. Both have used that to fuel their fires, and both are now All-stars. West has a better ranged game, but Boozer's inside scoring is incredibly efficient. Still, offensively, these guys are close to a wash, and it's Boozer's rebounding that gives him the edge here. He's a bulldog on the glass.
C: Mehmet Okur v Tyson Chandler
Aw hell. After Harrington and Miller, we get yet another center who doesn't play like a center, preferring to stand out at the three point line and shoot. I hope West gets switched to Okur and has to guard him on the perimeter, because if Tyson has to do it, our defense suffers. West just doesn't rotate down low very quickly or bother interior shots as well as Tyson. Okur has a few other offensive moves in his arsenal, but he's an awful rebounder and defender. Tyson should dominate him on the glass with sheer energy. And expect at least a pair of oops for him to put down.
The Jazz have a trio of solid subs. Power Forward Paul Millsap would probably be starting on many teams, Kyle Korver is a nice ranged specialist, and Harpring is a hard-nosed rough-and-tumble guy who will get under his opponents skin.
The Hornets bench? They have a decent transition game with Pargo in, but cannot score in the half-court to save their lives. Against teams that can't stop a running team, that's good. Against teams like Golden State, Sacramento or even this Jazz team, who can also run, that strength plays into the other team's hands. We need a more versatile group.
I don't want to call this one. I've got a bad feeling about this game.
[Update] Fellow Hornets Blogger entersandman has a question exchange with All Jazzed Up on his site. Go take a look.