With a dearth of nationally televised games and a roster devoid of even a one-time all-star, even the most devout NBA fans rarely watch more than the highlights of Utah Jazz games. The Sacramento Kings get a little more national attention thanks to Boogie Cousins and their recent Knicksish front office follies, but with late start times and general basketball suckery, they are still hidden from the view of most East Coasters.
The Jazz and Kings faced off last night before each would host the Knicks over the next two days, and in an effort to bring Knickerbloggers some quality pre-game analysis (coupled with a DraftKings tournament in the balance – hey, Darren Collison, you’re dead to me), I sunk into the glorious corner of my L-shaped couch, channeled my innermost advance scout and watched every minute of Utah’s 114-106 loss to the Ragin’ Rajons. Here are a few things to keep an eye on tonight as Kristaps and Co. look to end a two game slide against a Jazz team on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Jazz offense primarily features Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks running high pick and rolls and dribble handoffs around Derrick Favors at the high post. Favors often ends up with the ball at the top of the key, and it would be nice to see Robin Lopez deviate from his hand-down man-down approach against Greg Monroe on Saturday and actually contest these shots. Hayward has a smooth game, slashing into the lane for floaters and layups, while Burks’ combination of speed and handle against the Knicks’ lackluster perimeter defense is my pick for nightmare matchup of the night.
Luckily, that’s about it for the Jazz as far as playmakers go. Trey Burke is shooting better this season but still not doing much else (20.2 AST%), while Trey Lyles (41 TS%) seems light years away from being an impact player. Rodney Hood is the shooter surrounding those high pick and rolls, but he’s shooting just 31% from behind the arc. Trevor Booker and Joe Ingles rarely look at the basket before passing.
This team really misses Rudy Gobert, who has missed the three games since Utah’s close defeat to the Warriors and is out for the foreseeable future with a sprained knee. In addition to stellar defense and a 13.7 career ORB%, the Stifle Tower’s dives to the rim opened up the Jazz offense a la Tyson Chandler; the Jazz’s ORTG is 9 points lower with him off the court this season.
On the Knicks’ side of the court, I’m interested to see who Utah selects to guard Melo, who should dominate both Hayward and Lyles in the post. I expect a healthy dosage of Booker off the bench for defensive purposes. It would also be nice to see the Knicks bench use this game as an opportunity to turn things around, as Booker, Joe Ingles and Jeff Withey are not the worthiest of adversaries. On the Kristaps front, his tallest task will be keeping Booker and Favors off the offensive glass. If Lyles, who’s been starting in Gobert’s absence, is on KP to start the game, I’d love to see the Knicks feature the lanky Latvian right from the tip.
The Jazz are last in the league in the pace while the Knicks rank a seems-like-it-should-be-lower 24th – seriously, the last Knicks’ fast break bucket I remember is the Porzingspin-and-dunk against the Hawks six weeks ago. Furthermore, the Knicks are 25th in opponents’ FT/FGA while Utah is 29th, so expect some serious hacking and whacking tonight. A slow game with tons of free throws… enjoy!