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LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 6: Rudy Gobert #27 and Dante Exum #11 of the Utah Jazz attend a game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz on July 6, 2019 at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

Jared Woodcox , 2019-08-28 03:41:27
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@jaredwoodcox or @thejnotes on Twitter.

Next: Utah Jazz Podcast: Grizzlies Expert joins show to talk Conley, Green

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John Keeffer , 2019-08-14 20:49:49
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In the doldrums of the NBA off-season, die-hard NBA fans will devour any morsel they can get of NBA news and analysis. With the recent release of the 2019-20 NBA schedule, it has created a whole week’s worth of content, and signals that the new season is truly just around the corner. To be exact, it’s 70 days away!

This is also the first moment that we can start making more accurate predictions for the season ahead. For the Utah Jazz, this is the first time in three years that the schedule has come out and appeared to be beneficial to the team. For the past two seasons, the first half schedule has been a killer for the Jazz, and they have finished the season with one of the highest strengths of schedule in the entire league.

First impressions of the new schedule should have fans breathing a sigh of relief. Not that it is easy, but the ups and downs appear to be much more balanced throughout the season. Let’s dive in and break down some of the key stretches and matchups that first jump out when looking over the schedule.

10/23 – Season Opener vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

The season opener is always an exciting time, but this game in particular is going to be fascinating to watch. The Oklahoma City Thunder are going to be a completely different team next season, and while many people view the departures of Paul George and Russell Westbrook to signify the start of a rebuild for the franchise, I think they could surprise people. The haul they got for each of those stars was significant though, and I could see the Thunder having a season similar to the Clippers last year. 

The potential starting lineup for the Thunder is going to be Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Andre Roberson, Danilo Gallinari, and Steven Adams. That’s a starting lineup that looks more like a bottom playoff team than a lottery team. They don’t have great depth, but they still have players like Dennis Schroder, Nerlons Noel, Mike Muscala, Terrence Ferguson, and Hamidou Diallo. The Utah Jazz are the better team, but the Thunder and specifically Chris Paul could be looking to make a statement early in the season.

Opening 26-game Stretch

One of the most difficult stretches of the season will actually come right out of the gates, as the Jazz will be playing 10 of their first 11 games against playoff level competition. You could actually stretch that out over the first 26 games of the season. During that stretch, they will only be playing four games against teams that are clearly not gunning for the playoffs. Let me actually break down their opponents into 4 categories. We’ll have Playoff Locks/Contenders, Likely Playoff Teams, Playoff Hopefuls, and Lottery Bound.

Playoff Locks/Contenders

  • LA Lakers x2
  • LA Clippers x2
  • Philadelphia x2
  • Milwaukee x2
  • Golden State x3

Likely Playoff Teams

  • Brooklyn Nets
  • Indiana Pacers

Playoff Hopefuls

  • Sacramento x2
  • OKC x2
  • Minnesota x3
  • New Orleans

Lottery Bound

The vast majority of teams the Jazz play early on in the season are going to be competitive matchups. The ones to watch out for are those Playoff Hopefuls. As pointed out by Tony Jones of The Athletic, early on in the season, those are the teams that still feel like they have something to fight for:

FYI, it’s a lot more dangerous playing the playoff hopefuls early in the season, instead of late in the season, because they haven’t had reality hit early in the season. Those teams are a lot easier to beat later in the season when teams start counting lottery balls. So the OKCs of the world, even without Russell Westbrook and Paul George, figure to be difficult to handle.

The Jazz are going to be playing a front loaded schedule, and it should begin to soften later on. The difference between the past two seasons and this season though? There will be a much better balance between home and away games through the first two months. The 26 game stretch will have 13 home games and 13 road games. It does feature four back-to-backs, but they are pretty favorable as far as travel and the opponents go.

Based on the schedule, I can envision the Jazz having a good but not great start, and then they can really start to make hay from mid-December on.

Make Hay Month

Speaking of making hay, that would would be post All-Star break for the Jazz. They will be playing Phoenix (x2), Washington, Cleveland (x2), New York, Detroit, Memphis, Atlanta, Dallas and Chicago. There are also teams like Minnesota and OKC in that stretch. Who, depending on how the season plays out, could be fighting for ping-pong balls, not playoff seeding.

Familiar Faces in Strange Places

The experience some major roster turnover this off-season, and that means we can look forward to a few of our favorite players coming back to Utah. It is always strange seeing those former Jazz players in a new uniform for the first time. Circle your calendars for when the following players come back for a visit to Salt Lake City:

  • Derrick Favors – New Orleans Pelicans
    • November 23rd and March 13th
  • Ricky Rubio – Phoenix Suns
  • Jae Crowder – Memphis Grizzlies
    • December 7th and March 14th

Unlike Gordon Hayward’s return to Salt Lake on February 26th, Favors, Rubio and Crowder should all receive ear-deafening standing ovations from the fans at Vivint.

Lucky Breaks

There are a few things that should really play out in the favor of the Utah Jazz this upcoming season. I already mentioned the difficult starting schedule, but the the first two matchups against the Clippers may be without Paul George. Even with George in the lineup, the Clippers are a dangerous team. That said, they are definitely not the title favorite team they are with him. If the Jazz can steal one or even both those games, it could pay huge dividends to potential end of the season tiebreakers. 

Another favorable scheduled gift is our matchups against the Golden State Warriors. The Jazz will play all four games against the Warriors prior to the All-star break. With Klay Thompson almost certainly out until after the break, that should be an easier matchup. With Steph Curry, De’Angelo Russell and skinny Draymond Green, the Warrior will be hard enough to beat as is. So not having the services of Klay Thompson is going to be a big bonus for the Jazz.

Unlucky Breaks

Every year there are four teams within your conference that you are only able to play three times. The best scenario is that you match up against some of the best teams in your conference only three times. For the Jazz, the only likely playoff team that they have the benefit of only facing three times is the Houston Rockets. The other teams they only play three times? The Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, and the Sacramento Kings. The Kings could potential take a leap and sneak into the playoffs, but still. Those are teams that the Jazz should defeat 9 out of 10 times, so you would be happy to play them four times in a season.

The other tough break for the team is the overall amount of travel they will have to experience. The Jazz will travel over 50,000 miles by seasons end, which is the most of any team in the NBA. We’ll just have to see how that potential effects some of the older players on the team, and if Quin Snyder looks into the potential of situationally resting players against lighter competition.

Overall, what should fans think?

Overall, this is a very fair schedule for the Utah Jazz. The franchise has decided that they do not want to play on Sundays, which makes it harder for the league create a decent schedule. For the first time in a few years, it feels as though the league got it right for the Jazz, and the schedule shouldn’t have as much as an impact on the wins and losses this year. 70 days! It really is just around the corner.

John is a Multimedia Journalism major at Utah’s Weber State University, where he has been a sports reporter for The Signpost. He also has previous writing experience at his own blog, The Wasatch Front, as well as at The J Notes. John moved to Utah at a young age, just in time for the Jazz’s back-to-back Finals runs.


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Top 3 hardest stretches on the 2019-20 schedule

Jared Woodcox , 2019-08-14 12:00:38
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SALT LAKE CITY, UT – APRIL 09: Head coach Quin Snyder of the Utah Jazz grimaces on the sideline against the Denver Nuggets in a NBA game at Vivint Smart Home Arena on April 09, 2019 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)

Although the 2019-20 Utah Jazz schedule is overwhelmingly positive, they’ll face three daunting stretches in particular that feel like they’ll be quite a challenge.

As discussed earlier in the week by both myself and my J-Notes partner in crime Ryan Aston, the 2019-20 Utah Jazz schedule is far more favorable than we’ve seen the past two years. Accustomed to brutal road trips and a gauntlet of a December, the latest version of the Jazz schedule appears far more balanced and conducive to an exhilarating regular season and a potential Finals run.

The Jazz have just two road trips with over three consecutive away games in them, and the latter of the two features contests against the hapless Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks. Utah also was fortunate enough to be tied for the fewest back-to-back sets of any team in the NBA with 11 in all.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean their entire schedule is all rainbows and unicorns. In fact, they have some notable stretches that will be quite difficult and will provide a great proving grounds for the Jazz.

While they’ll certainly face tough challenges during the entire course of the season and will likely run into the occasional bad loss that should have been a win, there are three specific stretches that really stand out as the most daunting of the bunch.

Disheartening though it may be to dwell on them this long before the season has even gotten underway, I feel it my duty to warn my fellow Jazz fans. As such, buckle up and hold on tight, because we’re about to look at some nasty spans of schedule that the Jazz will be forced to cope with during the 2019-20 campaign.

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3 positives and 3 negatives about the 2019-20 NBA schedule

Jared Woodcox , 2019-08-13 12:00:55
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Utah Jazz Donovan Mitchell Rudy Gobert

PHOENIX, ARIZONA – MARCH 13: Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz is congratulated by Donovan Mitchell #45 after scoring against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on March 13, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The 2019-20 Utah Jazz schedule, which was released on Monday, has its fair share of positives and negatives, but overall looks favorable for the Jazz.

During the doldrums of August, likely the slowest month in terms of basketball activity of the entire year, there is one brief moment of reprieve where hoops fans can enjoy a bit of excitement. That moment came on August 12th this year as the full NBA schedule for all 30 teams was officially released.

Leading up to that date, Utah Jazz fans had been anxious to see just how the new schedule would play out. The past two seasons featured a schedule that was extremely top-heavy, with the Jazz having to play several road games and fierce playoff contenders in the early going of the season. This, of course, produced slow starts and frustration among Jazz fans, but ended with the team turning things around and righting the ship in the second half of the season as the schedule eased.

While that’s worked out relatively well for the Jazz, I’ve stated several times in articles for The J-Notes and on The J-Notes Podcast that Utah absolutely can’t afford to get off to a slow start this season. They’ll need to be aggressive from the 2019-20 campaign’s onset and push hard for a top seed in the West to increase their playoff odds dramatically.

Fortunately, for the most part the Jazz and their fans were rewarded with a much more favorable schedule than what we’ve seen the past two years, as pointed out recently by my J-Notes colleague Ryan Aston. However, that doesn’t mean that everything about it is perfect.

With that being the case, I’ll go ahead and dive into the newly released schedule to discuss three positives and three negatives facing Utah this upcoming season. Here we go!

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Utah Jazz get 2019-20 schedule amenable to their title aspirations

Ryan Aston , 2019-08-13 05:03:07
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After getting the shaft from schedule makers the last two seasons, the Utah Jazz’s 2019-20 schedule is one that could aid in their championship aspirations.

Say what you will about the cupcake walk the Utah Jazz enjoyed on the back end of their 2018-19 schedule, the fact still remains that their first-half slate was about as gnarly a stretch as any team could possibly be asked to endure. 16 of the team’s first 24 games (and 21 of 33) were on the road and much of the first half of the season was played against a litany of the league’s elite.

Believe it or not, that was actually viewed by many as an improvement over the previous campaign. Next year, though, with the Jazz looking to make their most postseason noise since John Stockton and Karl Malone led the team to back-to-back Finals in the ’90s, the slate may be a bit more amenbable to setting up the dream run.

At least from a wear and tear standpoint.

The 2019-20 NBA schedule dropped on Monday and while I’ll stop short of saying the Jazz have it easy, their slate for next season is definitely more balanced and a little bit lighter on the sort of hellacious runs that really bruise bodies and egos.

The biggest takeaway for me: the reduction in back-to-backs.

Utah has just 11 back-to-back sets next season, which is tied for the lowest in the league. Better yet: the brunt of them come later in the season, so the Jazz will be able to work in new pieces and new sets, gel as a squad and, essentially, get their act together before they have to deal with major schedule-induced stress.

Part of this is a product of the league trying to reduce the number of back-to-backs league-wide in recent years, but this is the first time the Jazz have really benefited from that initiative in a major way. Also — the league has done away with stretches of four games in five nights across the board.

My other big takeaway from the schedule is that the Jazz really only have two extended road trips. From November 25 to December 2, they’ll play at Milwaukee, at Indiana, at Memphis, then at Toronto and Philadelphia on a back-to-back. The next one is March 2-7, and will be at Cleveland, at New York and at Boston and Detroit on a back-to-back.

They do have a handful of three-game roadies, however.

On the flip side, the Jazz have an awesome home stretch around the All-Star Break. Before the break, on February 12, they’ll play host to the Miami Heat. Upon their return from break, they’ll play five more home games against San Antonio, Houston, Phoenix, Boston and Washington from February 21-28.

Better yet: that six game home stand is sandwiched by winnable games against Dallas on the front end and Cleveland and New York on the back end.

Next: Utah Jazz: Rudy Gobert clowns Clint Capela on social media

We’ll have more on the schedule throughout the week, but just upon first glance, the Jazz’s slate — while definitely not the league’s easiest schedule — is one that lays out nicely for a team that is both trying to mitigate the growing pains that come with revamping a roster, as well as looking to make a real run at the Larry O’Brien trophy.

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Preseason home schedule features Aussie re-match

Ryan Aston , 2019-07-23 05:52:59
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The Utah Jazz have revealed their home schedule for the 2019 NBA preseason. Once again, the exhibition slate features a bout with the NBL’s Adelaide 36ers.

With the Utah Jazz incorporating so many new faces this offseason, the team’s exhibition slate will have an added level of importance when games tip-off this fall. After all, adding the likes of Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Ed Davis and the rest is all well and good, but these guys still have to learn how to play together.

On Monday, we found out when fans will get to see this process play out live at Vivint Smart Home Arena for the first time.

The Jazz announced their home schedule for the 2019 NBA preseason and, once again, it features a showdown with the Adelaide 36ers of the Australian NBL. They’ll also go toe-to-toe with Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers, as well as De’Aaron Fox and the Sacramento Kings.

The schedule is as follows —

Saturday, Oct. 5: Adelaide 36ers
Monday, Oct. 14: Sacramento Kings
Wednesday, Oct. 16: Portland Trail Blazers

Although the 36ers will be severely over-matched in the opener, the contest will still be a nice way to introduce the Jazzland masses to their new team. Also — there will be a couple of familiar faces on the Adelaide side.

Most notably, forward Eric Griffin, who joined the team in June.

After balling out for the Jazz’s summer league squad in 2017, Griffin became the team’s first-ever two-way player when he inked a deal with Utah that summer. In the end, he didn’t see any regular season action as part of the main roster, but he did appear in 19 games with the G-League’s Salt Lake City Stars, putting up 17 points and five boards a night.

He spent last season playing in Italy, Poland and Israel.

Joining Griffin will be head coach Joey Wright, the 36ers’ head man for the last six seasons. He was also part of Utah’s summer league outfit in ’17, taking a spot on the bench as part of the coaching staff.

Wright is a three-time NBL Coach of the Year and has led his team to two Grand Final appearances.

Next: J-Notes Podcast: What a summer it’s been for the Utah Jazz!

Meanwhile, the Blazers game will feature a homecoming of sorts for former Jazzman Rodney Hood. The 26-year-old re-upped with Portland on a two-year, $11.7 million deal this summer.

Hood last played for the Jazz during the 2017-18 campaign when he averaged a career-best 16.8 points per game over 39 appearances. He’s since settled in to a nice reserve role with the Blazers.

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Salt City Seven: Persistence, Resurgence and the Guy in the Corner

Dan Clayton , 2019-03-11 21:18:13
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The Salt City Seven drops every week throughout the regular season, with seven regular features meant to relive the week in Jazzland from various angles. Check in every Monday for the quotes, stats, plays and performances that tell the stories from the last 168 hours in the world of the Jazz.

An important quote from Jazz players or personnel during the week.

“We can’t take these teams lightly, thinking we’re just going to come in here and win. They’re playing for free. They’re playing free. They’re having fun. We have to get ready to get everyone’s best shot from here until the end of the season.”

-Donovan Mitchell, in Tony Jones’ great column at The Athletic about Utah stumbling against lotto teams

Starting with last week’s three games, 16 of the Utah Jazz’s final 20 outings will come against teams not projected to make the playoffs. It’s the soft stretch of schedule that fans and analysts have pointed to all season long, the recompense for Utah’s brutal first half. There’s just one problem: somebody forgot to tell those lottery-bound opponents that this is supposed to be the Jazz’s easy stretch.

There’s a downside to a softer slate, and the Jazz experienced it last week: unpredictability.

Last week, the Jazz ran into squads from Memphis and New Orleans who are playing without the pressure of an intense postseason seeding race. And not only did they face looser opponents, but because of those teams’ resting strategies and future-focused roster moves, they also saw rotations and combinations they hadn’t seen before.

Every team has a dozen or so different schemes they can throw out there to try and slow an Anthony Davis-Jrue Holiday pick-and-roll. Those guys are top guys at their positions, so coaches and advanced scouts have burnt through a lot of brain cells thinking about how to address that combination. If we’re honest, nobody has spent quite as much time devising methods of defending the Julius Randle-Frank Jackson pick-and-roll. So when Davis hit the bench early as part of his team’s new approach to pull the All-NBA big man, Utah was suddenly dealing with a guy who they’re just not used to planning for as a 30-percent usage guy.

Of course, you’d still rather see Randle rolling down the lane than Davis (and the Jazz absolutely should have had a 3-0 week), but that just shows the complexity of dealing with teams who are improvising their rotations and trying to run out the clock on the 2018-19 season.

Similarly, they then ran into Memphis, a team whose rebuilding moves have put a new combination of pieces around star guard Mike Conley. Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green are better than Jonas Valanciunas and the specter of Joakim Noah, but teams don’t yet have a fully formed scouting report on the dozens of new lineup combinations, their strengths and their liabilities. That’s how the Grizzlies were also able to trip up the (likely) playoff-bound Blazers and Magic.

It’s hard to formulate a game plan or otherwise mentally prepare when you don’t know who’s going to play, for how long, and to what degree different guys are going to care about the outcome. While someone who’s a known commodity might be resting or going through the motions, you might have a handful of his teammates who are going gangbusters to earn their second 10-day contract or lock in a non-guaranteed salary for next season. 

And that’s just one of the ways an ostensibly soft schedule presents some unique challenges.

It also presents less unexpected upside when a schedule is full of “should-win” games. Teams around them have been able to pick up unbudgeted wins — Houston got one in Toronto, San Antonio beat Milwaukee and the Clips upset the Thunder, all in the last week. For the Jazz, there are few (if any) unbudgeted wins left — only unbudgeted losses. Every game they win from here on out will either be an “as expected” outcome, or at worst a 50-50 prospect, like Monday’s Jazz-Thunder series finale. And every game they lose will feel like a mild tragedy.

One additional downside to this purportedly cushy stretch might not become evident until the postseason. Utah may face a team that has spent weeks in playoff-style battles while Utah has been playing glorified exhibition games against tanking teams. The Jazz may have to ratchet up the intensity in a hurry to catch up to a playoff opponent that has been playing weeks’ worth of intense games just to get to April 13.

For now, the Jazz’s focus needs to be as Machiavellian as possible: they need wins. They need to face Phoenix and Washington with the same emotional energy and mental focus as they brought to their games against Milwaukee and Denver. They need to do what Mitchell suggested and assume the guys down the sideline from them are plotting to spoil their aspirations.

Because they are.

 

Stats that tell the story of the week or highlight a timely topic.

+27

With their 18 three-point shots made to Memphis’ nine, Utah became the 18th team this season to outscore its opponent by 25 or more from the 3-point line and still lose the game. Only one of those teams (Dallas, vs. Milwaukee on February 8) lost the game by a wider margin than Utah’s minus-10. The Jazz also scored three more points at the line than the Grizzlies, which means they lost the two-point battle by 40 points. Memphis scored 60 points in the paint, and the Jazz are 2-9 when their opponents scores 58 or more there.

22

On Wednesday night, all of Mitchell (22), Derrick Favors (25) and Rudy Gobert (22) went for at least 22 in New Orleans. It was the fifth time this season — and the third time in two weeks! — that three Jazz players have all scored 22 or more in the same game. That didn’t happen at all last season, or even in Utah’s 51-win season the year before. The last time it happened was in November 2015. Not surprisingly, Mitchell has been in the 22-plus trio each of the five times that it has happened this season. Gobert and Ricky Rubio were involved in three of them, while Favors and Jae Crowder each had a part in two.

10

While we’re at it, Rubio and Joe Ingles each delivered 10 assists or more that night as well, a much rarer feat. The last time two Jazz players dropped 10 dimes in the same game was in March 2008 when Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams were both feeling generous. Williams and Andrei Kirilenko also did it in November of that same season, and before that you have to go all the way back to 2001 when Jacque Vaughn joined franchise legend John Stockton in double figures.

+10.3

This may come as a surprise to a very vocal contingent of Jazz fans who are dissatisfied with Rubio’s recent play, but the Spanish guard actually had the best Net Rating on the team this past week. Utah also struggled greatly when he sat: minus-5.6. The only player whose rests cost them more was Mitchell (-7.1 off). 

107.1

Here’s a weird one that I just don’t know what to do with: Gobert’s DRtg last week was a pretty disappointing 107.1. Utah’s Net Rating was 9.2 points better per 100 possessions when he sat (+6.4) than when he played (-2.8). That obviously won’t continue, but Valanciunas, Davis and Randle all clearly bothered him this week. In fact, players who were primarily guarded by Gobert at the end of a play shot 31-for-58 (53%) last week.

 

Breaking down the Xs and Os behind a Jazz score from the week.

Gobert paint seal

Here’s a little pet play the Jazz have been running for Royce O’Neale lately. It uses the gravity of Gobert’s roll and a clever little wrinkle to get O’Neale all the way to the rim untouched. They ran it on back-to-back plays on Friday night.

Most of the Jazz’s best actions involve knowing how the defense is going to react and then turning that against them. That’s the case here. The pick-and-roll action is going away from O’Neale’s corner, which makes his man the designated helper in both scenarios. Because the Jazz know O’Neale’s guy is going to leave him, they have Gobert roll pretty convincingly, but then right as O’Neale beats the closeout, Gobert’s role changes: watch him seal the paint so that nobody can step over to stop the drive.

Even when the defense knows it’s coming or just saw it (those two plays were less than a minute apart), it’s still a great design to counter a certain type of P&R defense. If the on-ball defender goes over the screen and the dropped big is forced to contain, then the corner defender has only two choices: let Rudy dunk, or go “tag” the roller but in so doing give up the baseline to Royce.

Here’s another example of the same play, but this time in stills to highlight why it works. This one was from earlier in the week, and this time they run it from the left side of the floor instead. (Click to enlarge.)

(Game stills)

Keep an eye out for this. The Jazz are using it a lot lately as a way to break the paint against drop big defenses. Crowder and the guards will also get this called for them.

 

After each Jazz win, Twitter helps us decide who was that game’s MVP or most memorable performer.

Jazz 114, Pelicans 104: Derrick Favors

I actually thought this one was ridiculously close between Favors and Gobert, but the Twitter vote was literally unanimous in Favors’ favor, so I let the ayes have it. Gobert’s case is that he had a more complete line (22 & 13, with 4 blocks), held all Pelicans to 1-for-10 shooting at the rim, and guarded Davis for virtually every second he was on the floor. That said, if you watched the game, it’s easy to understand why Favors got some of the narrative juice. He had 15 (on 6-for-7) in the second half alone, and in a still-close fourth quarter, the Jazz continually went back to the well of the Favors-Ingles pick-and-roll to pull away. He had a game-high 25 and just edged his froncourt-mate thanks to the popular vote swaying me.

 

Tracking the wild Western Conference postseason race and the Jazz’s place in it.

It’s officially time to take the Lakers off this graphic. They have lost five straight. They have fallen past Minnesota into 11th place. They are 7.5 games out of the eighth seed, and they have already lost the tiebreaker to both the teams parked there1. FiveThirtyEight, B-Ref and BPI all give them less than a one percent chance at making the postseason. So I’m comfortable making this a “2 through 9” graphic going forward. 

The playoff picture heading into 3/11 games.

Utah still has the easiest opponent slate by far, even after playing three straight against sub-.500 teams. They don’t have any road games left against teams with a better record, and after Monday night, they’ll only have one left anywhere versus an elite team.

But here’s what hurts: OKC and Portland both flinched last week, and Utah couldn’t take advantage. Had the Jazz taken care of business against the Pels and Grizz, they’d enter the week tied in the loss column with those two teams, with an opportunity to pull ahead of the Thunder on Monday.

 

A quick look at the Jazz’s next seven nights of action.

Seventeen games remain for the Jazz, starting with a 4-in-6-nights stretch this week. 

Monday: Oklahoma City at Utah, 7:00 p.m. MT 

  • State of the Thunder: With a 2-6 stretch since their double-overtime win against the Jazz, OKC has lost its grip on the No. 3 seed. Paul George missed three games during that stretch, and shot just 29 percent in the five he played.
  • Jazz-Thunder: Monday marks Utah’s last chance to get a regular season win against their playoff opponent from last April. Utah lost its last two to OKC by 1-point margins, including a 2OT heartbreaker where they squandered several late opportunities.
  • Key for the Jazz: As always, the key is protecting the paint from Russell Westbrook drives without letting George get hot. The Thunder are 20-4 this season in games where PG shoots above 43 percent from deep.

Wednesday: Utah at Phoenix, 8:00 p.m. MT

  • State of the Suns: The Suns’ still sport the West’s worst record, but they’ve won five of seven overall, and in the past week they’ve taken down each conference’s top team.
  • Jazz-Pels: Weirdly, the teams have faced off just once this season, a 28-point trouncing by the Jazz. That means that Utah has to face these suddenly competent Suns three times in the next month. 
  • Key for the Jazz: Devin Booker is obviously the head of the snake, but the Jazz will need to account for  rookie DeAndre Ayton, who’s averaging 18 and 9 in the Suns’ current 5-2 stretch.

Thursday: Minnesota at Utah, 7:00 p.m. MT

  • State of the Wolves: Minny started the year in a 4-9 hole during the Jimmy Butler drama, and is 28-24 since they moved on via a November trade. They still haven’t beaten a likely playoff team away from home since January 8, though. 
  • Jazz-Wolves: Utah leads the season series 2-1 after sweeping a home-and-home set in late January. But these games tend to be spicy, even if Gobert is 10-3 all-time against Karl-Anthony Towns in games they both played. 
  • Key for the Jazz: Neither Tom Thibodeau nor his replacement Ryan Saunders has been able to get this team to defend the perimeter; they’re literally last in the league in defending non-garbage time threes, per Cleaning the Glass.

Saturday: Brooklyn at Utah, 7:00 p.m. MT

  • State of the Nets: Confession time: I love these guys, and not just because they play 10 minutes from my front door. They work hard, they outplay their talent level, and they have a smart coach and system. They’re basically like the 2015-16 Jazz, except that they’re in the East so their “Hey, we’re here!” year will end in a playoff appearance.
  • Jazz-Nets: Utah visited Brooklyn early in the season, before Kenny Atkinson had gotten things clicking. Utah won that one by 10 as part of an 8-game skid for Brooklyn, but they’re 27-15 since they snapped that losing streak. 
  • Key for the Jazz: Brooklyn has a smart offensive AND defensive shot profile, so expect them to take a lot of threes and challenge Utah’s. The Jazz will need to break the paint and make quick decisions when the Nets’ defense is compromised.

Because after all, we’re here to have fun.

OK, this isn’t technically just a fun entry… but it’s fun for me, a noted Dante Exum believer.

Exum will make his return this week after a severe ankle sprain (and resultant bone bruise) kept him on the shelf for two months. 

The Jazz have missed Exum greatly. He’s the only player outside Mitchell who can consistently puncture the defense with or without a screen, and a key factor in a lot of their losses over the last two month has been a shortage of ball handlers to put sufficient pressure on the defense.

But the real reason why they’ll be thrilled to welcome X back in just in time for playoff prep comes to us courtesy of SCH’s own Riley Gisseman.

First of all, this is just terrific stuff by Riley. He found that each of the star guards Utah is most likely to face in the first round of the playoffs becomes less efficient with Exum defending. On average, these five players see their true shooting efficiency drop from the high 50s to the high 30s. That is a “holy smokes” level impact, especially since the guys in question are some of the most prolific offensive talents of this generation.

A player who has that kind of defensive impact on elite offensive players just got back in time for Utah to head into the postseason.

So yeah, I think that qualifies as fun. 


That will do it this week. Seven more juicy bits of Jazz next Monday.

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton


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December Dates with OKC Will Be Valuable Down the Stretch

Tyler Crandall , 2019-02-27 06:31:09
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To date in 2019, the Utah Jazz are a respectable 15-7. Considering the record alone, it doesn’t pop as much as something the team’s 29-6 over the final 35 games of the 2017-18 season. It gets much more respectable once you consider a few more factors. So far, the Jazz have played the 2nd most difficult schedule of any team in the league (and conversely, as we’ve discussed before, they have the easiest schedule of Western Conference playoff foes).

Adding further context to the record so far this calendar year: each of those seven losses came not only against a playoff team, East or West, but against a team currently slated as a top five seed. They’ve lost to fifth-seeded Houston, and the other six losses — to Toronto, Golden State, Portland (twice), Denver and OKC — came against teams who would enter the playoffs with homecourt advantage if the postseason started today.

Also consider the narrow margins in some of Utah’s losses, including the double-overtime battle against OKC or the Warriors game. Toronto and Portland were both losses of six points or less. There were two blowouts, to Houston and Portland.

At first glance, this all seems really positive for the Jazz. And it is  positive. Winning games is good. And it’s certainly not negative. But the Jazz did have a home-heavy stretch with plenty of rest and a lot of less-difficult opponents. 

“Schedule” as an excuse is a two-edged sword. Many were lamenting early in the season that analysts were putting too much stock in the difficult schedule and the Jazz had a lot of issues with the roster or elsewhere. Those same lamenters may now be celebrating all of the recent wins and ignoring how easy stretches of the recent schedule  has been.

Truth be told, those seven losses were also the only games the Jazz probably should have had a chance of losing, other than the wins against a shorthanded Denver team or the LA Clippers. The Jazz had a few impressive wins, but most of the wins were games they should have won. 

Piling up victories in those should-win games has certainly helped, and the Jazz have such a favorable schedule going forward that it’s really hard to imagine them coming in at anything worse than a 6th seed. But putting their 15 wins from 2019 in context is as meaningful as putting their ragged November and December in context. The Jazz are still largely beating teams they should and coming close but not quite getting there versus the elite.

After their upcoming back-to-back, the Jazz will enter March, which may be the easiest month any NBA team will have this season: aside from home games against the Bucks and Thunder, the Jazz will spend the month of March playing only teams with records around or below .500. If the Jazz can get through the next couple of games without dropping all of them,  taking care of business in March against a lot of losing teams should make the playoffs a lock. 

Tyler joins Salt City Hoops for the 2018-19 season, having previously written at The J-Notes. Tyler grew up in Utah watching the Stockton-to-Malone Jazz. He now lives in Brooklyn, NY and is an active tweeter at @tjcranman.


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Tillman scores career-high 16, Utah beats Hawaii 80-60

STATS/TSX , 2018-12-31 23:53:30
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TORONTO — The Utah Jazz are looking for better things in 2019, while the Toronto Raptors hope the season continues on its successful course but are waiting eagerly for the eventual return of All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry and center Jonas Valanciunas.

The Jazz will visit the Raptors to open the new year Tuesday night at Scotiabank Arena.

The Jazz (18-19) can take some solace from having played the most difficult schedule in the league so far, according to ESPN.

Utah already has played 21 away games (10-11) and will open 2019 with four more on the road before the schedule gets a little easier.

“The schedule was not the easiest,” said Jazz center Rudy Gobert who had 25 points and 16 rebounds Saturday in a 129-97 home win over the New York Knicks. “We had a lot of road trips. We lost some games we should have won. But we fought through it and we got better.”

Gobert senses that things will improve.

“I feel like everyone’s coming with a defensive mindset,” he said. “When we do that, we’re a good team.”

The Jazz were without point guard Ricky Rubio (bruised back and leg) and, in his place, Dante Exum had his first career double-double with 13 points and 13 assists. Forward Jae Crowder (bruised thumb) also missed the game Saturday. Both are listed as probable for Tuesday.

“I think that we played well,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after the game Saturday. “And the score in this case reflected that we played well. I think in the second half, we didn’t play as well. Part of it, for our group, is continuing to maintain our discipline and consistency.”

Meanwhile, the Raptors (27-11) will again be without Lowry on Tuesday. He has been out with a sore back. It is not certain when he will return, but he should return much sooner than Valanciunas, who is recovering from surgery on his dislocated left thumb.

The Raptors struggled through an unimpressive 95-89 home win over the Chicago Bulls Sunday and it is becoming apparent that they are missing Lowry and Valanciunas.

“We miss both those guys, without a doubt,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “One of things that I say is they are kind of like our two seniors on the team. They have been here the longest of anybody, and this kind of their team, and their investment in this organization has been the greatest. We miss a little bit of that, I think. It’s okay, let’s not go crazy. We got a win in an NBA game (Sunday) and we will take it and move on and try play with a little bit more pizzazz the next game.”

Toronto has won three straight home games and improved to 14-4 at home this season. The Raptors had an 8-7 record in December and have not had a losing month since January 2017, when they were 8-9.

Kawhi Leonard scored a game-high 27 points in 34 minutes on Sunday, a career-best 13th straight game in which he has scored at least 20 points. He has averaged 29.7 points per game in that span.

The Raptors have struggled offensively in recent games.

“We have to figure it out obviously,” said Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, who had 10 points and seven assists Sunday. “Probably three of the worst quarters we’ve had in the last two games. We’ll figure it out. I think that if I had to choose, I would choose offensive struggles over defensive at this point of the year because we have the talent, we have the coaching and the schemes and stuff that we need.

“It’s just a matter of finding a rhythm with guys out. Certain teams are going to guard you certain ways, and (Sunday) was just an ugly game, but at this point of the year we’ll take it, find a way to win and move on to Tuesday.”

The Raptors defeated the Jazz 124-111 at Salt Lake City on Nov. 5 with Lowry scoring 17 points with 11 assists. Gobert had 14 points and 12 rebounds.

Gobert has recorded 31 double-doubles in the first 37 games this season. The only player in Jazz history to record more double-doubles in the team’s first 37 games is John Stockton, who had 32 double-doubles during the 1989-90 season.

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Utah Jazz absurd schedule continues with trip to Mexico City

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The Utah Jazz’s crazy schedule continues as they head out to Mexico City to face the Orlando Magic on Saturday afternoon.

If you’ve been keeping close tabs on The J-Notes this week, you’ll have noticed that a reoccurring theme that’s been discussed has been that of the Utah Jazz’s incredibly difficult schedule. Due to the number of road games, intense amounts of travel and daunting foes, Utah has had the toughest schedule of any team in the league up to this point, which goes a long way in explaining their current 14-15 record.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of reassuring signs, both in terms of the schedule and the team simply looking better, that things are going to look up soon. However, for the time being, their schedule simply appears primed to continue to be quite daunting. Not only have they had an absurd amount of travel thus far, but they’re set to take quite a unique trip for their upcoming contest against the Orlando Magic.

No, they won’t be headed to sunny Florida, instead they’ll be off to Mexico City. After yet another odd single game at home, the Jazz are jumping right back on the road, this time to a quite unfamiliar destination.

As part of the NBA’s continued global outreach, the Jazz get the opportunity to play at the Arena Ciudad de Mexico in Mexico City on Saturday where they’ll meet the Magic. While the distance from Salt Lake City to Mexico City is actually shorter than SLC to Orlando, between required out-of-country outreach and travelling across the border, I can see this being a rigorous trip.

Still, outside-of-basketball obligations aside, it’s pretty cool that Utah was selected for this opportunity. The game will be televised nationally on NBA TV, and playing in Mexico will be an awesome way to bring more international fans into the Jazz family. I know that I, for one, am excited that the Jazz get this chance to play in such a distinct contest and arena.

However, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy. Not only will the Jazz have another tiresome flight out of Salt Lake as they head back on the road yet again, but they’ll be facing an Orlando team that’s already had time to acclimate to a new environment. The Magic faced off against the Chicago Bulls in Mexico City on Thursday, and will be there waiting for the Jazz once they arrive for the game on Saturday.

So while this is a cool opportunity and should be an exciting game between a solid Jazz team and a pesky Magic squad, the timing of it really feels like it’s just piling on to Utah’s already extensive travel and difficult schedule. They’ve faced a gauntlet thus far to start out the year, and this trip to Mexico City seems like just an extension of that fact.

Next: Even Erik Spoelstra recognizes insanity of Utah Jazz schedule thus far

Hopefully Utah will be able to come out focused and put on a show in front of the Mexico City crowd. Not only would a win help increase the Jazz’s international favor, but it would also put them back at .500 on the year, which would be a great mark all things considered. The Jazz and Magic tip-off on Saturday at 3:00 PM MT on NBA TV.

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