Salt City Hoops » Raja Bell http://saltcityhoops.com The ESPN TrueHoop Utah Jazz Site Fri, 01 Aug 2014 22:42:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The ESPN TrueHoop Utah Jazz Site Salt City Hoops no The ESPN TrueHoop Utah Jazz Site Salt City Hoops » Raja Bell http://saltcityhoops.com/wp-content/plugins/powerpress/rss_default.jpg http://saltcityhoops.com/category/players/raja-bell/ JazzRank 15: Raja Bell http://saltcityhoops.com/jazzrank-15-raja-bell/ http://saltcityhoops.com/jazzrank-15-raja-bell/#comments Tue, 16 Oct 2012 05:09:17 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=5571 Author information
Jackson Rudd
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Unfortunately, we have to start JazzRank with Raja Bell, probably in part because we held the voting before preseason got going–or else he definitely would have at least fallen behind Chris Quinn (who at least threw an a perfect alley-oop to Alec Burks last Friday, which is one more highlight than Bell will pull out this year) and Darnell Jackson (who keeps getting enough playing time in these preseason games that we are becoming compelled to remember his name, despite his low chance of making the team), if not more.

Offseason Accomplishments:  Let’s see here… Since the season ended, Bell 1) burned through exit interviews with the spite of a spurned middle school ex-girlfriend, publicly calling out Ty Corbin’s coaching ability, leadership skills, and general manhood,  2) started hustling his resume to all of the contenders (read: Miami), pushing the glue guy angle right after he had sold out his previous team WHILE HE WAS STILL UNDER CONTRACT FOR ANOTHER YEAR, 3) balked at the chance to take a buyout, presumably hoping to cling to his 3 million dollar paycheck after testing the waters of free agency (read: Miami) and realizing he wasn’t as popular as he had hoped, 4) somehow showed enough willingness to compromise or something to keep the Jazz from using the amnesty clause to waive him and his salary from their books, and then 5) was deemed so toxic to team chemistry that he was barred from entering training camp with the rest of the team. He did graduate from Florida International in August and ran some basketball camps in India, so congratulations to Raja on that.

In the end, Bell’s second run with the Jazz is like Sufjan Stevens’ new, groundbreakingly bizarre Christmas song, Christmas Unicorn.  At first you think it’s cute and kind of funny, and then it keeps going and you slowly start thinking it is less and less cute until you suddenly realize you aren’t enjoying yourself at all and you’re listening to a social commentary that you hadn’t anticipated and never wanted and it keeps going and going and going and you want it to stop just so everyone can move on but it just keeps going and going and no one ever knows when it will end because Raja is still under contract and I don’t think anyone has made it to the end of the 12 minute song to confirm that it does, in fact, come to an end.

Patronus (you know, like from Harry Potter*):  Jellyfish

Stat to Watch:  Games Played.  The only statistical question worth asking right now is whether Raja Bell will suit up for an NBA game this year.

Three Potential Outcomes for the Season:

1.  The buyout never happens and Raja Bell hangs out with his family and brings in a cool 3 million while doing it.  Occasionally, at slow points in the season, the Salt Lake Tribune will follow up with him and ask Dennis Lindsey a couple of questions to try to stir things up again only to find there is not much to stir.  The lack of compromise hastens the end of Raja Bell’s career as no one is willing to take a chance on a 36-year-old a year removed from the speed of the game.  He goes on to get an assistant coaching job at his alma mater, FIU, and slowly moves out of the realm of public awareness.

2.  Raja Bell turns out to be as competitive as advertised and finally bites on the buyout option so that he can take the veteran’s minimum contract with Brooklyn.  He makes a valiant effort in his ten minutes a game off the bench and averages 7 points a game in Brooklyn’s first round loss to Philadelphia.

3.  Come January, when everyone is resigned to the outcome outlined in #1, Dennis Lindsey quietly makes a phone call to the Bay Area.  Bob Myers, the Golden State GM, picks up on the other line.  Of course, nearly halfway through the season, the Warriors will inevitably have lost all hope of a playoff berth and will be busily maximizing their losses through the rest of the year so that they don’t have to give Utah their pick.  The following conversation ensues:

DL: I know you guys are going to be looking to tank again this year.  I have a wonderful offer for you.

BM: How dare you!  We would never lose our integrity like that!  But, um, let’s hear the deal.

DL:  The offer I am about to make you will both ensure that you lose more games AND clear up cap space for you.

BM: Tell me!  TELL ME THE OFFER!!!

DL: Raja Bell for Harrison Barnes.  Straight up.  Well, plus maybe your second round draft pick.

BM: Done!

Lindsey hangs up the phone.  Kevin O’Connor sets down the cue cards he was holding for Lindsey and laughs maniacally.

/scene

 

 

 

 

*throughout JazzRank we are going to make the wild and totally indefensible assumption that, in the event of the actual existence of Hogwarts, and given proper training, all of the current Jazz players could develop the rare ability to cast corporeal Patronuses.  We apologize in advance to any Harry Potter fanatics who might be offended by such an assumption.

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Jackson Rudd
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Jazz Statement on Raja Bell http://saltcityhoops.com/jazz-statement-on-raja-bell/ http://saltcityhoops.com/jazz-statement-on-raja-bell/#comments Fri, 28 Sep 2012 23:41:08 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=5505 Author information
Spencer Hall
Founder Spencer Hall has covered the NBA, Team USA and NBA D-League since 2007 and launched Salt City Hoops in 2009. Spencer is now the news director at KSL.com
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The saga of Raja Bell’s inauspicious second stint with the Jazz continues, but it won’t continue with him around the rest of the team. The Jazz partially answered one of the strangest questions of the off-season: What to do with the charred remains of the bridges burned by Bell last season?

The team released the following statement Friday afternoon:

SALT LAKE CITY (September 28, 2012) – Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey issued the following statement today regarding guard Raja Bell:

“I have spoken with Raja and his representative, Herb Rudoy, and we have mutually agreed that although Raja remains under contract, it is in the best interest of all parties that he not re-join the team next week when the Jazz begins training camp. We will now move forward focusing on Jazz basketball and our preparation for the upcoming season. We will have no further comment on this matter.”

The only way this scenario of makes sense is if the Jazz have a good idea of who will occupy roster spots next season and they can bide their time long enough to completely freeze out any opportunities Bell might otherwise have to join another team anytime soon.

Besides making his feelings unmistakably clear on his way out of locker clean out at the end of last season, Bell has made statements at stops all around the league listing all the top teams as potential destinations for his specific set of skills.

Interestingly, his pitch to the league has changed quite a bit since his bold exit. While he clearly considered himself an elite player in the league (and seemed to think the feeling was mutual), his statements to a radio station in Miami showed he was willing to market himself as simply an experienced veteran willing to fit in in a limited role. But with a contender, of course.

The two-time member of NBA All-Defensive teams said he appreciates any role would be limited.

“At my age and what I’ve got in my tank, I feel like a limited role is best,” he said. “I don’t really like playing 35 minutes a night anymore.”

Shane Battier currently stands as the Heat’s lone perimeter defensive specialist, although LeBron James often takes the critical perimeter defensive assignment in crucial situations.

“As much as I control what I do, I don’t,” Bell said. “The Jazz hold my rights, they are the owners of the contract. And so if they tell me I’m coming back to camp, then I have to go back to camp.

So apparently Bell returned to Utah on Monday for his physical, hoping to get word one way or another on his status with the team and to work out details of his departure. The Jazz appear to have reciprocated with the NBA equivalent of Time Out.

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Spencer Hall
Founder Spencer Hall has covered the NBA, Team USA and NBA D-League since 2007 and launched Salt City Hoops in 2009. Spencer is now the news director at KSL.com
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Morning After Drill: Everything is Everything http://saltcityhoops.com/morning-after-drill-everything-is-everything/ http://saltcityhoops.com/morning-after-drill-everything-is-everything/#comments Sat, 05 Feb 2011 16:25:19 +0000 http://www.saltcityhoops.com/?p=3530 Author information
Jeff Lind
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Wow. I almost forgot what it felt like to go into a good team’s house and win. Turns out it feels pretty amazing. Here are a few thoughts after last night’s game.

  • I like aggressive Deron. Seeing him push the ball up the court and keep the offense running seemed like a major lift. The rest of the team responded well and played harder on defense, cut faster on offense, and just played all around more aggressively. It seems more and more clear… as Deron go, the Jazz go.
  • The Jazz actually played defense. Yes, they fouled early and often, but I’d rather see aggressive defense out of the gate that results in fouls than no defense. That aggressive D turned into smart D though, and the Jazz ended up with some pretty key stops down the stretch that helped them maintain their lead. I was pretty impressed with the rotations, and hustle from everyone.
  • The Jazz felt like they were in control throughout that game. No come from behind antics. No heaves at the end of a wasted shot clock. They felt powerful, and they won every quarter but the first (and they only lost the first quarter by one point).
  • How awesome was it to see Deron go after JR Smith after his flagrant 2 on Bell? For such a moody guy, you rarely see that kind of emotion from Deron on the court. No hesitation, no wondering what the league would do… Williams saw his guy go down hard, and he went after Smith for it. I love the leadership he showed at that point, and throughout the night.
  • Jefferson was a beast last night. A BEAST. 28 points (12/20), 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Wow. He had some tough shots too… fall away jumpers, double teams, and face-up jump shots over defenders. Jefferson also played hard on defense, had a key block against Anthony, and took a few nasty charges. Pretty cool to see.
  • It was great to watch the Jazz shoot well from the free throw line (17/18). Refreshing.
  • The players complemented each other. Don’t know if it was AK being out, CJ being on, or Evans being up, but they were feeling it together.
  • Tough night for Hayward. He was a foul away from everybody and had absolutely no shot. I mean, you have to give the guy a bit of a break since he was playing against Anthony, but he REALLY looked out of his league.
  • Speaking of Anthony, that was the quietest 31 points I’ve seen in a long time. I was pretty shocked when I saw the final box score. Melo seemed like he was getting blocked, or forced into a tough jumper every time down the floor.
  • Raja. Where have you been?

Great night… it feels like good things are on their way for the Jazz. Tonight’s another big test, and it’ll be interesting to see how the team responds to last night’s solid play.

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Jeff Lind
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Is C.J. Miles the key to the Jazz season? http://saltcityhoops.com/is-c-j-miles-the-key-to-the-jazz-season/ http://saltcityhoops.com/is-c-j-miles-the-key-to-the-jazz-season/#comments Fri, 03 Dec 2010 16:48:10 +0000 http://www.saltcityhoops.com/?p=3269 Author information
K.Malphurs
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C.J. Milesis not going to be the best player on this Jazz team.  At best I think he could be the 5th best player behind Deron Williams, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Andrei Kirilenko.  That, however, doesn’t mean that Miles isn’t the key to a season where the Jazz (hopefully) make the jump from good to great.  Why is a player who isn’t even a starter, or one of the best players, possibly the key to the Jazz season?

AP Photo

In trying to answer the above questions lets look at the Jazz lineup more closely.  Right now the Jazz have two below-average shooting guards in Miles and the starter Raja Bell.  Neither are particularly good shooters (32%-33% from 3 and less than 42% from the field for both of them), and neither stand out as above-average in any statistical category.  They both have less than average WS/48 (average = 0.10) with Bell coming in at 0.062 and Miles only slightly higher at 0.072.  It isn’t really that big of a surprise to see that the Jazz production by position has the shooting guard position as a -4.9 PER compared to their opponent.  The fault on this lies on primarily with Bell and Miles since they play the majority of the Jazz minutes there.

The shooting guard position isn’t a team strength, so let’s do a little more analysis and compare the two players who play there most.  Bell is a better shooter this year and overall from the line, the field and from three.  Miles is more athletic and thus has a higher rebounding %, steal % and block %.  He also has a higher assist % (12.1 compared to 6.3).  Still they aren’t too different when you compare the individual stats with Miles coming out only barely ahead. However, when you compare the team stats it is a completely different story.  The +/- when Miles is on the court is +133, while Bell is -48.  The team’s win percentage when Miles is on the court is 82.4% compared to Bell who comes in at 43.8% (check out some of the stats from 82games.com to see the differences in the play of the Jazz when both players are on the court).

For a little more clarity lets compare the Jazz starting lineup (Williams, Bell, Kirilenko, Millsap, Jefferson) with the starting lineup when Miles replaces Bell.  These are the top two lineups that Coach Sloan has used this year.  In 331.9 minutes the starting lineup has been outscored by 23 points.  They score on average 1.02 points per possession and give up 1.07 points per possession.  When Miles replaces Bell, the team (in only 62.3 minutes) has outscored the opponents by 51 points.  They score on average 1.36 points per possession (.34 points more) and give up 0.94 points per possession (0.13 less) to their opponents.  All it took for the Jazz to go from an average team to the 1996 Chicago Bulls is substituting Bell for Miles.  Now before anyone writes this let me stress that all of this is based on a small sample size, which could mean that everything changes.  Also, I recognize it just might mean that Bell is facing tough competition (the starting shooting guard) while Miles gets to play against the backups.  I know both of those things, but you can’t ignore numbers like that.

Now if both players really aren’t that different why do the Jazz play so much better with Miles ?  Here are a few theories:

  1. Miles is a better defender- This is probably the most plausible explanation.  Miles is taller, quicker and just from watching the games looks to be much better on defense.  Opponents are shooting an eFG% of 37% when Miles replaces Bell in the starting lineup.  With Bell the starting lineup gives up 45% shooting.
  2. Miles shoots the ball- One of my main problems with watching Bell is that he doesn’t do anything.  It isn’t like he is playing poorly, but sometimes it would be nice if the shooting guard actually shot the ball.  He seems to be content passing the ball around the wing and doesn’t look for this shot nearly as much as Miles.  The numbers reflect this.  Bell’s usage rating is the 3rd lowest on the team at 14.4%.  Miles, on the other hand, is second behind Deron Williams with a usage rating of 26.7%.    Miles is 4th in field goal attempts despite being 6th in minutes.  Bell is 6th in field goal attempts despite being 5th in minutes. My theory is that defenses have to respect the threat of Miles shooting the ball (even if he isn’t an above average shooter) more so than Bell and that opens up the offense.  With extra spacing it gives Millsap and Jefferson a chance to dominate inside.  The defenses seem to collapse and guard the paint more with Bell on the court.
  3. He shoots the ball more from close range – Miles shoots 23% of his shots from close range compared to only 9% for Bell.  This has two advantages.  One it it is easier to shoot from up close (Bell makes 70% while Miles makes 61%).  The second one is that while I can’t proof this I think Miles moves more without the ball than Bell.  It seems to me that Bell stands outside the three point line and is strictly a catch and shoot player.  Miles is a little bit more dynamic and that movement is something that is critical to Coach Sloan’s offense.

The season is only 20 games in and the Jazz are playing great.  A 15-5 record makes me rethink my intial forecast of 50 wins and as a Jazz fan I have no problem with being wrong by guessing too low.  Part of the reason for the Jazz record has to be C.J. Miles.   Looking at those +/- numbers makes me think that Miles is really lucky, good or both.  Let’s hope for both and that despite pedestrian raw numbers there is some magic to the way Miles plays that allows the Jazz to continue their strong play with him on the court.  Overall I think that he is the key to the Jazz season.

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K.Malphurs
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Take it to the Court: Thanksgiving Edition http://saltcityhoops.com/take-it-to-the-court-3/ http://saltcityhoops.com/take-it-to-the-court-3/#comments Wed, 24 Nov 2010 16:34:51 +0000 http://www.saltcityhoops.com/?p=3181 Author information
Jefferson
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Take it the Court is a new weekly column on SCH featuring the arguments, opinions, and random musing of a Utah Jazz fanatic.

Over the past several years, the Utah Jazz have teamed up with the Salt Lake Mission to provide Thanksgiving to thousands of underprivileged Utahns.  Thus, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, here is a sampling of the Utah Jazz as your traditional holiday meal:

  • Turkey: I know you’re thinking Deron Williams as the main course, right?  Guess again…how about Jerry Sloan?  Don’t sleep on Sloan for Coach of the Year, tryptophan notwithstanding.  Surrounded by change (during his tenure, he’s seen different players, management, different uniforms, even a different arena, and later a new arena name), Sloan is as constant as the Thanksgiving turkey tradition.  This Coach won’t let his players nap on defense (or they’ll find themselves camping on the bench).  Turkey is Thanksgiving and Jerry Sloan is the Utah Jazz.
  • Mashed Potatoes: Half Millsap + half Jefferson = one tasty serving of “Jeffersap.”  Night in and night out, these two take turns filling the plates of opposing teams with tasty points and rebounds.  Together, they are the glue that holds the meal together – It would nice to see them both on the table at the same time, but at least we can always count on one or the other. Thru 15 games, the duo is averaging a combined 36 points and nearly 18 rebounds per outing.
  • Gravy train? Here’s where D-Will comes in.  You know that the key to turkey and mashed potatoes is a sweet tasting gravy to tie it all together.  Likewise, Deron is the link between Sloan and his two-headed Jeffersap.  When Williams is hot, he makes Sloan, Millsap, and Jefferson ALL look better.  You can bet that opposing teams wish they could go easy on Williams – just like passing by the gravy at your family feast, overlooking D-Will is a recipe for destruction.
  • Sweet potatoes: How come we only eat sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving?  It must be some holdover from a long forgotten era – but it still makes the menu every November.  Raja Bell is the sweet potato in our analogy – a little old school, but the meal just isn’t complete without him.  With Raja on the bench, the defensive difference in Utah’s home loss to OKC was palatable.  Raja hasn’t had a defining game yet, but he makes his teammates better defenders.
  • Homemade rolls: Unless your willpower is stronger than mine (sweet, sweet carbs), you really can’t stop after one serving…just like Andrei Kirilenko.  When AK is playing well, the team wins – plain and simple.  Recall that is was AK’s inspired play that initiated the streak of comebacks.  Pair him up with some Gravy or Mashed Potatoes, even cranberry sauce – and you’ve got a winning combination.
  • Green Beans: Not everyone likes CJ Miles.  I have several FB friends who insist that he is the problem with the Jazz and needs to be shipped away as soon as possible.  And then he knocks down HUGE buckets to keep the Jazz from dropping a close one to division rival Portland, followed by a great showing against the Kings.  I, for one, am a fan of green beans AND CJ Miles.  My only qualm? I don’t want my green beans thinking that it is my gravy.  CJ, I love ya, but this is Deron’s team – you don’t have to be the hero every time you get the ball.  Be content to be a green bean, for crying out loud!
  • Cranberry Sauce: Like it or not, a little bit goes a long way; enter the Utah bench – Fes, Elson, Price, Hayward, Watson [reserve "white meat" jokes about Fes and Hayward for another time].  The Jazz don’t need huge minutes OR huge numbers from their bench players.  Instead, they need small doses of energy to keep things together.
  • Pumpkin Pie: If you don’t finish your meal with a slice of pie with some fresh whipped cream, you’re missing out.  There’s just something about Mehmet Okur [shouldn't HE be the Turkey?] that can put the finishing touches on the Utah season.  Sure, you may think there is no room for pie, but come on, you can always make room for a nice slice of pie – and a silky smooth jumpshot.  Word is, Memo is getting close.

My wish is that each and every reader out there has a happy and healthy Thanksgiving with more food than you can eat and plenty of friends and family to share it with.  From the staff writers of SCH, we’re grateful for you stopping by for the finest news and opinions on the Utah Jazz.

-  -

Contact Jefferson W. Boswell at jeffersonboz [AT] gmail [DOT] com.

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Jefferson
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Morning After Drill: From Here We Go Sublime. http://saltcityhoops.com/morning-after-drill-from-here-we-go-sublime/ http://saltcityhoops.com/morning-after-drill-from-here-we-go-sublime/#comments Wed, 10 Nov 2010 18:23:13 +0000 http://www.saltcityhoops.com/?p=2932 Author information
Jeff Lind
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That Miami game was over. Done. The Jazz were down 8 with 29 seconds left in regulation. The long ball had been inconsistent all night, the Heat had four good free throw shooters on the floor, and one of the best Jazz players (Big Al) hadn’t touched the hardwood for (what seemed like) days. I was wrapping up my comments on the Daily Dime Live, taking a few (deserved) pot shots for things I had said during the Jazz’ 3rd and 4th quarter runs, and trying to figure out what we could learn from this loss. The game was done.

Then Millsap went Supernova.

Mansap!

46 points. 67.9% FG% (19-28). 100% 3PT% (3-3). 9 RB. 1 Ast. 1 Stl. 1 Blk. 1Tov.

Don’t know if the story needs to be retold (you can check it out here), but here are a few morning-after thoughts as I try and wrap my mind around this win:

  • The first half was an absolute disaster. The Jazz only scored 13 points in the first quarter, and 19 points in the second (to Miami’s 25, 26, respectively). For those keeping track at home, that’s an embarrassing 32 points against a team that is supposed to be Eastern Conference contenders (Opposing fans were putting the over/under at 70 points for the Jazz  in the DDL).
  • The Flex is a system designed to give players easy, open looks at the basket. It relies on three main things: Good passing, good screens, and good cuts. The Jazz accomplished successful execution of ONE of those three things in the first half: the passing, but since there were no real cuts or screens going on, they were passing into jumpshots. If you’re not executing the other pieces of the flex, and your jumpshots don’t fall, then the offense is completely crippled. Moral of the story? TRUST AND EXECUTE THE OFFENSE.
  • I don’t know what Raja said at halftime, but it hit the right notes with the Jazz. His line wasn’t anything to look at, but he earned his paycheck with that veteran speech. Sometimes young guys need to hear a soapbox speech from someone they trust and respect… in this locker room, that’s Raja Bell.
  • When the Jazz came out of the half, they executed their offense correctly, had easy buckets throughout the 3rd and 4th (Spoelstra called it a “layup drill” in postgame interviews), and gave themselves a chance to get into the game.
  • Never underestimate the importance of having “a go-to guy.” We’ve always thought that was Deron. Nice to have two of them around.
  • What was Deron thinking fouling before the ball came in-bounds at the end of regulation? Carlos Arroyo tricked him into a technical foul that very nearly cost the game. Either way, that should have been more damaging than it was since it gave the Heat an extra free throw AND ended up putting Deron out for OT.
  • Wade missed a free throw that could have nearly iced the game for Miami. I don’t even know what to do with that information. Besides that miss, he was spectacular. 39 points on 52% FG shooting, and 60% from 3-point land? Wow. That kind of night, and then to miss a game-icing free throw. I’m sure he’s furious.
  • Haslam didn’t box out Millsap on the final putback in regulation. Never underestimate the value of fundamentals. If I was Erik Spoelstra, I would have put one player on the shooter, a floater under the basket, and three brutes with the sole assignment of BOXING OUT MILLSAP.
  • Not enough has been made of AK’s 3 in OT. That thing was a missile straight from Mother Russia. He may terrify us when he raises up to take that 3, but Kirilenko is a machine and feels no fear.
  • How about Jerry NOT calling a timeout on the final Ronnie Price drive (pass to Elson)? Sloan would get slammed if that backfires, but I love it. I like not letting the defense get set, especially against good defenders like Miami.
  • How about Francisco Elson icing the game? Elson had 2 points… both coming at the stripe in those final seconds. Those are some intense shots that bigger players may have missed (I’m looking at you Wade). I like that he made both, even if it meant banking in the second… it forced a real desperation shot… if you’re only up by one in that instance, you pass it inside and shoot into someone to try and draw a foul. Those refs proved that they were willing to call fouls with the game on the line.
  • The refs made a GUTTY call. Not very many crews would call a game ending foul for a relatively unknown (Elson), on a superstar (Wade) in the superstar’s house (Miami). Kudos to the refs for stepping up to the plate and making the right call.
  • Buried in the Millsap love, you’ll find pretty solid other lines:

Awesome game from Deron: 9-15 from the field on 21 points, 14 assists, and 4 rebounds.
AK: 16 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, and a block. The Russian Dagger balled.

  • Opposing fans were wondering why we didn’t have a nickname for Millsap in Utah. They came up with a few (and we started using two in particular for the rest of the DDL). Here are my favorite suggestions: Steel Mill and Purple Drank (a little throwback to the Mardi Gras colors). Any they missed? Which do you like?
  • Finally, one last crazy stat: The Jazz overcame a 21-point second-half deficit to stun the Heat with an overtime victory in Miami last night. It was only the eighth time since the start of the 2004–05 season that an NBA team, playing on the road, overcame a second-half deficit of more than 20 points to win. The Jazz accounted for four of those eight wins, having previously overcome such deficits to win at Sacramento (2006), Atlanta (2006) and Portland (February 2010). Wow.

It was a FANTASTIC game, and I couldn’t be more happy for Millsap (it’s nice to see hard work payoff in a superstar league). Purple Drank will never have to buy himself another watered down drink in Utah again!

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Jeff Lind
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Division Previews: Los Angeles Lakers, Pacific Division – Western Conference http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-los-angeles-lakers-pacific-division-western-conference/ http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-los-angeles-lakers-pacific-division-western-conference/#comments Fri, 22 Oct 2010 18:00:44 +0000 http://www.saltcityhoops.com/?p=2423 Author information
Jefferson
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In the final days leading up to regular season action, SCH will be posting divisional previews of the top teams in all six NBA divisions. Come back early and often for updates.

Back for his second stint in Utah, Raja Bell has the unenviable task of guarding Kobe. (Jae C. Hong, AP)

Key Matchups

Laker Bigs vs. Utah Bigs

As was all too evident in last season’s playoffs, the Lakers are a nightmare to defend down low.  With Spaniard Pau Gasol, Andrew “Injury” Bynum, and Lamar Kardashian-Odom, the Laker-length has proved to be too much for anyone in the league to handle over the last two seasons.  Without sounding insensitive, though, Bynum hasn’t played a full season since 2006-2007 – so chances are he’ll miss some action this year for the defending champs.

The addition of Big Al Jefferson provides Utah some much needed size in the post.  Okur can stretch a defense, but Al isn’t afraid to rumble in the paint.  In order to truly compete with LA, Utah will need big games from Al, Andrei and Paul, with quality minutes from Fesenko, Elson, and Okur (when healthy).  If the preseason means anything (it doesn’t), Utah looked pretty impressive against LA in two road victories.  Utah’s big men held their own in the post – and Big Al seemed to overwhelm the much skinnier Gasol.

Kobe Bryant vs. Anyone and Everyone

Kobe is one of the best players in the league right now. Any discussion centering on Utah and Kobe will undoubtedly begin with Raja Bell.  While Raja is the designated defensive stopper, his attitude will be contagious with his younger teammates.  CJ and AK will take turns trying to stop the guy.  Deron Williams will have a go against him.  Coach Sloan might even throw a rookie or two on him.  Am I the only one that thinks Jerry Sloan would like a crack at him, too?  Limiting Kobe will be a team effort.  In 4 regular season games against the Jazz last season, Black Mamba averaged 5 fewer points than his average (he still put up 22 points, 6 rebounds and 5.3 dimes on the Jazz).  Not surprisingly, Kobe upped his scoring average to 32 points in a four game sweep of the Jazz in the Western Conference Semi-Finals.  I’m not sure there is any way to effectively “stop” Kobe…the key will be to limit his touches as much as possible and make him make the insane circus shots that he’s famous for.

High Notes | Low Notes

There’s not much vulnerability for the two-time defending champs.  The core from the previous two years is intact, and you can bet that LA will continue to impress come playoff time.  One of its self-perceived deficiencies was perimeter shooting…so LA went out and acquired Steve Blake and Matt Barnes.  Not counting the preseason victories, Utah hasn’t won at Staples Center against the Lakers in 16 tries.  On paper, the Jazz can match-up with just about anyone.  At ESA, Utah can compete with the best in the league.  For some reason, though, LA just seems to have Utah’s number.  Stockton and Malone defeated the Lakers in the playoffs in 1997 and 1998 (a sweep).  Williams and Jefferson and company have the precedent…now they need to get it done.

History

LA leads the all-time series 113-68. Utah went just 1-3 last year during the regular season against the eventual champs.  LA has eliminated the Jazz from the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.  During that run, LA has won 12 times, with Utah winning just thrice.

Not all is gloomy in the outlook vs. LA.  In preseason play, Utah overcame strong performances from both Kobe and Pau Gasol to win TWICE in California against the full-strength (if preseason) Lakers.  Granted, the preseason means nothing, but the Jazz played well against a full-strength Laker-squad.  If that effort can be replicated in the regular season (or, in answer to Jazz fans prayers, in the playoffs), there is hope.

Deron Williams nicely summarizes the feelings of all of Jazz fandom:

I hate ’em, you know…I hate the Lakers. They’re so good. I hate them because they win all the time. They’re a tough team. … We definitely talk about it. It’s not a secret. We hate the Lakers.”

Player/Coach Notes

Phil Jackson wins championships in threes. 1991-1993, 1996-1998, 2000-2002, [2009-2011?].  While history suggests that the Zen Master is due for his NBA record 12th championship this year, I suspect that Coach Sloan would not concede the season just yet. Sloan’s wins outnumber Jackson’s, but Phil has the rings and a better winning percentage.

Michael Jordan’s recent comments placing Kobe in the pantheon of the top ten all-time greatest-guards was just the type of backhanded compliment you’d expect from his Airness.  Wherever you rank those two, they’re both Jazz-Kryptonite.

Raja spurned the recruiting efforts of ‘Mamba, to return to Coach Sloan and the Jazz.

Kobe also underwent arthroscopic knee surgery (the third time on his right knee) this summer.

Outlook

Let’s hope Kobe and company go overboard on Turkey (tryptophan anyone?).  The Lakers first venture to ESA on November 26th (the day after Thanksgiving).  The Jazz next face LA at Staples Center on January 25, 2011 – the first night of road/home back to back with San Antonio on the back end.  With any luck, LA will play the April Fool – in Utah on April 1st.  The Jazz then travel back to Laker-Land on April 5th.  Expect Utah to win at ESA and challenge for a victory in LA.  My realistic prediction? 2-2 split at home.  If the Jazz have any shot at representing the West in the Finals (optimistic, I know), they’ll have to find a way to get past the Lakers in the playoffs.

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Contact Jefferson W. Boswell at jeffersonboz [AT] gmail [DOT] com

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Jefferson
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Division Previews: Oklahoma City Thunder, Northwest Division – Western Conference http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-oklahoma-city-thunder-northwest-division-western-conference/ http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-oklahoma-city-thunder-northwest-division-western-conference/#comments Thu, 21 Oct 2010 18:04:13 +0000 http://www.saltcityhoops.com/?p=2454 Author information
Brian Henderson
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In the final days leading up to regular season action, SCH will be posting divisional previews of the top teams in all six NBA divisions. Come back early and often for updates.

Overview

The Original Young Guns, who were also not to be underestimated.

This will mark the third season in Oklahoma for the team formerly known as Prince. Wait. Formerly known as the Seattle Sonics. (I know. Especially with Sonics and Kevin Durant uber-fan Paul Brogan unleashing YouTube classics like this, I was sad to see them bolt the Great Northwest, too.) Two years ago, the Thunder won 23 games. Last year they won 50. So, is the 2010-2011 version of the Oklahoma City Thunder another slick piece of marketing propaganda from David Stern and company at the league PR office? Or is this upstart team filled with a roster of ten players age 24 or younger about to assert themselves as a perennial Western Conference power? What should you believe?

Believe that the darling of the 2010 playoffs who took the Lakers to six tough games in the first round is not a flash in the pan. Believe that if they can avoid the sophomore slump, their 27-game turnaround from the previous season will grow this season. Believe that last year’s league scoring champion and all-around phenom, Kevin Durant, could be named the MVP of the league this spring. Believe that whatever happens, Durant will lead his Young Guns out of the first round at least, if not further, in the 2011 playoffs. Believe this: OKC is for real. Let’s talk about why.

Key Matchups

Allow me to introduce OKC’s starting five: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Jeff Green, and Nenad Krstic. Key names coming off the bench include: Nick Collison, James Harden, Daequan Cook, Serge Ibaka, and Eric Maynor. What’s the quick takeaway for you here? A strong, young starting five and a reserve unit that is among the deepest in the league.

Kevin Durant vs. The World

One way to stop KD...the Flying Dolphin. (Photo: bleacherreport.com)

Durant’s soft-spoken demeanor betrays his on-court leadership. He was the unequivocal leader of Team USA’s gold medal run this summer at the FIBA World Championship in Turkey. Lest you forget, OKC point guard and rising NBA star Russell Westbrook was at his side for the entire run, which only enhances the growing on-court chemistry for the pair this season. (More on Westbrook in a moment.) Durant’s game is deceptively effortless, and NBA writer Scoop Jackson has compared his play to that of George “Iceman” Gervin, who made his every move look as easy as water rolling downhill. The best Utah can hope for is to stifle Durant when he penetrates the lane, force him to kick the ball out a little more than he normally would, and hope the post game stat sheet shows 22 points instead of 32.

D-Will vs. Russell Westbrook

Why should you pay attention to Russell Westbrook? Westbrook has quietly become one of the best point guards in the Western Conference. For a guy many expected to be nothing more than a role player, this is quite an accomplishment. He will have his hands full with D-Will, who is bigger, but Westbrook will be scrappy to be sure.

Paul Millsap vs. Jeff Green

This may be the matchup to watch. Jeff Green is the Thunder’s rebounding machine, and if he can make strides in that area this year, he will be the difference maker for many OKC wins. Remember, the Thunder ultimately lost game 6 against the Lakers on a missed defensive rebound that Pau Gasol scooped into the hoop after Kobe’s missed baseline jumper. Rebounding will, consequently, be a continuing mantra for the Thunder and Green is the heart of that effort. He and Millsap will be nicely matched, as both are underrated scorers as well.

Thabo Sefolosha/James Harden vs. Raja Bell/C.J. Miles

Thabo will start against Raja. Both are able scorers and tough defenders. But watch James Harden off the bench, the former 3rd overall pick whose game is really improving after his rookie year last season, in which he scored almost 10 points a game in 22 minutes a night. Both of those numbers will rise as his role grows on this team.

High Notes | Low Notes

It would be a mistake to believe this team’s success is built on their scoring prowess. It’s a sleight-of-hand. This is a crew of rapscallion defenders of the highest order. These guys are too young to know how to get away with sloppy D. They are alive, and electric, and Head Coach Scotty Brooks has them convinced that the road to a championship is paved with iron-clad defense.

One potential low note is the psychological effect of becoming a target of everyone in the league for having become the darling of the NBA so quickly. Could this newfound bullseye on their back create enough of a shift in the environment to knock them off their 50 win pace of last season? While it’s possible, I doubt it. Not with Brooks’ coaching and the roster’s up and down hunger for winning after tasting it in the series against Los Angeles.

History

The Jazz went 3-1 vs. the Thunder during their 23 win 2008-2009 season, their first in Oklahoma City. Last year, the Jazz were 1-2 against OKC. This is the sum of the short rivalry between these teams, notwithstanding the days in Seattle, which we’ve buried with a reservoir of tears. RIP Jazz Killer Eddie Johnson, Gary Payton, Shawn “Johnny Appleseed” Kemp, and company.

Coach Notes

For his efforts leading the Thunder turnaround, Scott Brooks was named NBA Coach of the Year. His team buys into his coaching philosophy, which Jazz fans can appreciate. He’s short. He played 10 years in the NBA. He won a championship with the 1994 Houston Rockets. His players like him. That’s all I’ve got here, folks.

Outlook

He makes it look so easy.

The OKC franchise has built this team largely through the draft, which gives them a sense of pride at home-growing this group of youngsters. Clay Bennett and his ownership group had cap space to chase a big dollar free agent, but these guys want to do this on their own terms, and who can blame them, with the young talent they’ve acquired? In the most unnoticed move of the summer, Durant signed a 5 year max contract extension with a nonchalant whisper through Twitter, in stark contrast to LeBron’s “Decision”. In fact, Durant’s favorite motto: “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” You get the sense from the way he goes about his business that he believes it. It makes it easy to root for him and this team.

The Jazz matchups with OKC will be among the most kinetic games of the season. For you basketball purists, this matchup will showcase the orchestral beauty of this game–offensively and defensively–in full regale. In short, these games will be pretty to watch. Utah catches OKC at its freshest as two of the team’s first 11 games are against the Thunder. The next two games come in early February and late March. The latter will be a nice test of how the Jazz can handle a stifling defense and manic offensive movement down the stretch.

The Poetry of Basketball, with thanks to Mr. Whitman. (Photo: Red Cedar Writing Project)

If I were the Jazz, I’d want to catch these guys sooner than later in the playoffs too, before the OKC kids get in over their heads and not realizing it, play out of their heads to the dismay of whoever stands in their way. Don’t give them more credit than they’ve earned quite yet, but they stand toe to toe with the Jazz lineup in the “who’s second best in the west behind LA” category. To the victor go the spoils.

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Brian Henderson
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Division Previews: Orlando Magic, Southeast Division – Eastern Conference http://saltcityhoops.com/divisional-previews-orlando-magic-southeast-division-eastern-conference/ http://saltcityhoops.com/divisional-previews-orlando-magic-southeast-division-eastern-conference/#comments Wed, 20 Oct 2010 22:00:58 +0000 http://www.saltcityhoops.com/?p=2387 Author information
Jeff Lind
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In the final days leading up to regular season action, SCH will be posting divisional previews of the top teams in all six NBA divisions. Come back early and often for updates.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

Key Matchups

Dwight Howard v. Al Jefferson – On one hand you have Howard: a battle tested, 6’11″ 265 lbs, defensive beast. On the other you have Jefferson: A relatively untested, 6’10″ 280 lb, offensive low block power. These two are nearly a wash, size wise (although you can bet that Dwight will be chiseled and in game shape come opening tip), so it’ll be fantastic to see them battle on either end for big man domination. It’s no secret that Al was a little heavy when he weighed in at training camp, so here’s to the rigor of Jerry Sloan’s intense preseason workouts that will hopefully have him game-ready come Orlando time.

Vince Carter v. Raja Bell – Carter is one of the most amazing offensive players I have ever seen, and he’s (allegedly) looked good this preseason. He’s athletic, strong, has a silky smooth jump shot, and last season showed us that he still has all the moves… when he bothers to play. He’s 33 and has a propensity to disappear in important games, but he’s also playing for a contract this year and (whether they like it or not) stands as the Magic’s most potent go-to threat. Conversely, Raja Bell is the newly proclaimed stopper for the Jazz, and if he has the guts to clothesline Kobe, he won’t fear getting up in Carter’s business. How Carter reacts to Bell’s tenacious defense within the Jazz system will be the most interesting storyline in these games. Will Vince rise to the challenge and use his athleticism to play above Bell, or will he shrug off the necessary work and let one of his many wing back-ups pick up the slack?

High Notes | Low Notes

The Magic finished 1st in the Southeast division last year with the 4th best offensive rating in the NBA. They also had the 3rd best defensive rating in the league. Unfortunately, they also allowed the 4th most points by an opponent of all 30 teams, and got dispensed by the Celtics in the second round of the playoffs. Seeding from a great regular season doesn’t mean much if you can’t come up big when it counts.

History

Last season the Jazz played two games against Orlando and each squad won on their respective home courts.

On Dec. 10 in Salt Lake City, Deron Williams scored 34 points to lead the Jazz past Carter’s own 34 points, and Howard’s 18 points & 10 rebounds. With that win, the Jazz broke the Magic’s franchise-record eight-game road winning streak.

On Dec. 21, the Magic returned the favor in Orlando. Dwight Howard led the Magic to a win with 21 points and five blocks (um… yeah. FIVE). The Magic scored 64 points in the second half of that game on their way to a 104-99 victory over the Jazz.

In the random stat department: the last time an opponent had a 20/20 game versus the Jazz was on March 15, 2009. Guess who the player was? Yep. Dwight Howard (28 pts, 20 rebs).

Player/Coach Notes

Stan Van Gundy is one of the rare coaches that seems to successfully walk the fine line of player coach and disciplinarian. He calls out his players in the media, yet he always finds their forgiveness with spontaneous goofiness. He trusts his shooters, and constantly preaches defensive uniformity. He’s good, and in the past two years Van Gundy has helped the Magic finish 18 games over .500 (in each year). He’s one of my favorite coaches not named Sloan. He doesn’t lie down for garbage from players, he plays his fair share of mind games in the media, and he always seems to have a good time with it.

Jerry Sloan’s all time win/loss record against the Magic is 24/19. Since Jerry Sloan was named head coach by the Jazz in 1988, the Orlando Magic have had eight coaching changes.

Outlook

The Magic are a good  team hovering at the top of an increasingly crowded east. After getting axed last year by the Celtics, you would think that the Magic would try and reload with better weapons. Instead they settled for a Quentin Richardson downgrade (for Matt Barnes) and sending Howard to summer camp with Hakeem Olajuwon (who is hoping to return with some more refined low post moves). I like Orlando’s team and coach, and I’d love to see them compete hard for an Eastern Conference title. Unfortunately, without any additional movement or major player changes, I think we’ll see much of the same out of Orlando: a strong regular season with a mid-round exit in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

[CAVEAT: If Vince plays up this contract year, Howard really does learn some subtle low post moves, if Rashard Lewis pulls it together on a consistent basis, and Van Gundy learns how to use Reddick effectively (who is a total stud), then these guys could be really, really scary. They just haven't shown that they can do it on the big stage yet, and the Celtics have. Give me something to believe in Orlando!]

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Jeff Lind
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New Look Jazz! http://saltcityhoops.com/new-look-jazz/ http://saltcityhoops.com/new-look-jazz/#comments Tue, 28 Sep 2010 18:46:51 +0000 http://www.saltcityhoops.com/?p=1893 Author information
Jefferson
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by Jefferson W. Boswell

Justin Bieber...err...Andrei Kirilenko greeting past and present teammate Raja Bell (AP Photo/George Frey)

The MLB playoffs are right around the corner and the hunt for October is in full swing.  College campus are rocking on Saturdays as football rivalries heat up.  The NFL has kicked off and the talk around the water-cooler has settled on fantasy stats and schedules.

To add to the joy that is Fall, the new look Utah Jazz held their annual media day as a final stepping stone to training camp.  Arguably the most consistent and steady team in the league, traditionally retro-Utah showcased a bevy of new talent, not to mention some slick new (throwback-style) duds.

The newcomers include:

“BIG” AL JEFFERSON

I’ve never been more excited to start a training camp.  Training camp is always been something that you want to skip but I’m so excited.  D-Williams is Batman [author: does that make Big Al sidekick Robin...Halloween costumes already in the works? What are the chances that Jerry Sloan would play Alfred?] – I’m here to do whatever he want me to do to help us win.

"I go from being in a Toyota to a Bentley. It’s a beautiful thing" (AP Photo/George Frey)

RAJA BELL

[I]f you want to win, there are very few franchises that have a winning record like the Jazz do. If you want a community to support you, I challenge you to go somewhere and find people that support you more than the Jazz fans do…I think we can challenge anybody in the West.  That’s me saying it: I’m an ultra competitor.  But I don’t think that’s far-fetched.  I think we have a lot of talent. I think we’re deep. …So, I’m not blowing smoke when I say we can be a really good team. I think we can play with anybody

Francisco Kjolseth, SL Tribune

(Francisco Kjolseth/SL Tribune)

ROOKIE GORDON HAYWARD

To be honest, when you first walk in and it’s Deron Williams right there, you get a little bit like ‘Oh my gosh, it’s Deron Williams’ [author's note: pretty sure I'd have the same reaction]

I know it’s going to be a journey, adjustment and a challenge, but like I said I’m excited to work hard and play at the next level.

Happy to repost this pic! (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBE/Getty Images)

Others joining the Jazz at training camp include Francisco Elson (C, formerly of the Bucks), Earl Watson (G, formerly of the Pacers), Ryan Thompson (rookie SG from Rider), Jeremy Evan (rookie F from Western Kentucky), and Demetris Nichols (F, played professionally in France last year).

(AP Photo/George Frey)

DERON WILLIAMS, playing the part of the pessimist/realist:

We still have to get together and play. We’re not going to know until we get together and play as a team and hopefully we gel quickly.

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Contact Jefferson W. Boswell at jeffersonboz AT gmail DOT com

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Jefferson
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