During my senior year of college, some friends and I came up with a rudimentary way to gauge the toughness of a test. We didn’t have a name for it, but it was brilliant. It was based on a simple question: Would you rather take a particular test, or get kicked in the face by that course’s professor? Pretty soon the answer to “How’d the test go” transitioned from, “I’d rather get kicked in the face” to a statement of how many kicks you’d rather have to the face. The harder the test, the more face-kicks you’d have accepted to have gotten out of it. It was stupid, but it made sense to us. Kicks to the face are a pretty good metric because A) they impose a true negative cost (nobody wants to get kicked in the face), and because of our aversion to kicks in the face, B) one average kick to the face is a decently objective unit of measure. You weren’t being dramatic when you said “I’d rather have taken two kicks to the face than take that test”; you really would be willing to take the kicking.
I’ve thought a lot about the NBA schedule since it came out. I’ve started thinking about teams the Jazz are going to play in terms of kicks to the face, and have wondered which teams the Jazz will later walk away from saying, “Whoa–I’d rather take three kicks to the face than play them again.” With all that being said, here are the five teams that I think the Jazz would prefer to accept literal face kicking off the court than figurative ones on:
“One-Kicker” – The Oklahoma City Thunder.
As a basketball fan, I can’t wait to see these two teams match up this year. After last April’s instant classic, I’ve been looking forward to seeing some classic head to head action with Durrant and Deron leading their respective squads. As a Jazz fan, though, OKC makes me nervous. They are a good, young team, and they’re going to be better this year. The Thunder don’t accept that they are too young to be that good; they are going to be pesky. They’re a team that will play all 82 games like it’s the final week of the season, and that’s dangerous for teams like the Jazz. The flex doesn’t allow teams to take mental breaks, so if we get caught sleeping on these guys, they’ll take advantage and steal a few games. If the west is as packed as it has been in the past few years, that’s trouble come playoff time. Ultimately, am I scared of OKC in the playoffs? No. Not yet. I see them as an over-hyped and underage group of guys that played above themselves last year. I think they’ll be trouble this year, but they are still a year or so away from legitimately contending in the west (like Portland was two years ago). Don’t misunderstand me: I love the Thunder, and think they’ll be a western power. I’m just reluctant to give them the west until they show that they can take it.
“Two-Kicker” – The Boston Celtics.
This team is old, but in basketball, old isn’t always bad. Between Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Shaq, and Paul Pierce, you have almost 60 years of NBA experience. SIXTY! While the Jazz will have youth and athleticism on their side, the Celtics will have wily, old man wits on theirs, and for anyone that’s played pickup ball against an aging dad or uncle, you know–old man wits are terrible to play basketball against. Between KG’s mouth, Shaq’s size, and Rondo’s ability to penetrate the lane, you’re facing a team that is all-around obnoxious. Remember: they are still the Eastern Conference champions, and I’m not convinced that there’s another team that will significantly challenge them this year. Besides (and I’ll get to this later), they have length and size. Unfortunately, the Jazz have historically been terrible against length and size.
“Three-Kicker” – The Miami Heat.
Yeah–you expected these guys a little further down. I know. I’m not dropping them for spite. I don’t blame LeBron for leaving Ohio, and I’m not upset that Bosh, Wade, and LBJ want to play together in a warm city that knows how to party. Sounds awesome, really. (I left my hometown for more green financial pastures, so it’s all stones and glass houses if I start complaining.) I just don’t see them as much of a threat to the Jazz as are some other teams. Saying that, the Heat will be an interesting team to watch this season and my eyes will be glued to the TV come tip off. Anyway, I make them a three-kicker for four reasons.
The first is Chris Bosh. He’s good, but he’s yet to prove that he’s elite. He’s been the paper tiger in this Super Friend runaround, and until he earns some stripes in some big game moments, I have a hard time getting too worked up about his anchoring the Miami Trifecta.
The second is that this is a small ball team. The Jazz can match up on that. Yes, the Heat have two of the best penetrating scorers in the league, and yes, they have Mike Miller (who plausibly could become the leading scorer on the Heat this year – read that sentence again), but that’s fine with me. The Jazz’s biggest issues come against long teams, not small athletic ones (ask the Nuggets what Melo’s People of Utah do with athletic teams).
The third: Who’s the alpha? This is a relatively untried experience in basketball. What happens when you jam three alpha dogs together on a single team and tell them to share? How will the King react when the media starts discussing his lack of production, or Wade’s inability to share the ball, or whatever. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh have been the guys in their respective cities since high school. Can they really share the spotlight with other true superstars? We’ll see. I think back on teams I’ve been on, or jobs I’ve worked at, and I’ve yet to see two or three mega alphas work together exceptionally well. Usually, something happens where one has to take the lead, and the other becomes resentful and bows out all together. It may not happen in this case, but until the Superfriends get on the court together, we won’t really know.
The fourth: What happens if one of the Superfriends gets injured, even for a short time? That’s the danger of standing on a three legged stool to change a light bulb. One leg goes out, and you’re in trouble.
“Four-Kicker” – The Chicago Bulls.
In theory the Heat should have the four position, but with three members of the 2009-10 Jazz on their team, I can see the Bulls being an absolute killer for Utah late in the season. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. If the Bulls run the flex, then they add three players that know it instantly and the Jazz end up playing it straight up. If they don’t play the flex, they still have three players that know it, and know where the off ball screens are coming. Three of their players know where our players like to shoot, or get the ball. They know where the Jazz like to run the floor. They know where Utah gets lazy and where they tighten up. I play a lot of pick-up basketball, and the guys that are most annoying to play are my brothers and good friends. They know my weaknesses and the subtleties (read: idiosyncrasies) of my game. The Bulls were good last season, and they did an excellent job this off season, heaping on the talent. (Quick side note: if you exclude Kurt Thomas, the Bulls have about 67 years of combined NBA experience. That’s only about 8 years more experience than the Big Three + Shaq in Boston. Those Celtics are old!)
“Five Kicker” – The Los Angeles Lakers (of Anaheim).
Man . . . the Lakers. What do the Jazz do with them? They’ve forced us out of the playoffs for the past three years. They have what seems to be an impossible opposing system in the triangle, the best player on the planet in Kobe Bryant, a HOF coach, and the longest players in the league. If there was a team built specifically to dismantle the Jazz, it would look almost identical to the Lakers. It’s become comical, but I absolutely hate facing these guys. The blessing and curse of having an insane fan base is that opposing players hate you, and you always get the best out of opposing teams. The Lakers in particular are always bring their A-game against Utah because it’s a pleasure to beat the team and in turn, crush their annoying fans’ hopes & dreams. Other fans wonder why we’re so excited about the Bell signing? Well, to have someone that can hang tough as a defender on Bryant is why. It seems like we’re grasping at straws, but most of those last playoff exits came despite some well played games by the Jazz, and a lock down player like Bell could provide the tipping point that the Jazz need to get over the Laker hump (at least that’s what we tell ourselves). Until Utah starts beating L.A. consistently, they will keep the top spot as most terrifying team to play in the league.
The upside to all of this is that as of today, the Jazz have a perfect record against all five of these teams, and Utah has gotten better this off season. In my mind, if Memo gets healthy, Raja stays tenacious, AK plays to his contract, Jefferson gets integrated, and Hayward really IS the baller we hear, then the Jazz could be scary come tip off. My guess is that there will be quite a few teams that walk away from ESA thinking, “Man… I’d rather get kicked in the face than play those guys again.”
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