Salt City Hoops » Western Conference http://saltcityhoops.com The ESPN TrueHoop Utah Jazz Site Wed, 17 Sep 2014 19:09:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 The ESPN TrueHoop Utah Jazz Site Salt City Hoops no The ESPN TrueHoop Utah Jazz Site Salt City Hoops » Western Conference http://saltcityhoops.com/wp-content/plugins/powerpress/rss_default.jpg http://saltcityhoops.com SCH Division Preview Hub http://saltcityhoops.com/sch-division-preview-hub/ http://saltcityhoops.com/sch-division-preview-hub/#comments Tue, 26 Oct 2010 21:45:53 +0000 http://www.saltcityhoops.com/?p=2611 Author information
Jefferson
]]>

New Season - New Logo

The Salt City Hoops staff has been hard at work previewing each of the contenders in the NBA.  Sure the season starts today, but come playoff time, only 16 teams will get to play in the second season – and have a shot at the Larry O’Brien trophy and a place in the hall of NBA champions.  Add the Utah Jazz to this list, and there are 19 teams fighting for 16 spots.  Who will be left on the outside looking in?

We’ve evaluated the key matchups, sounded the high notes and the low notes, revisited (sometimes painfully) the history between the franchises, scrutinized the players and coaches, and given you an outlook for the coming season.  Here, then, to kick of the 2009-2010 NBA season are links to each of those previews:

Atlantic Division: Boston CelticsNY Knicks

Central Division: Chicago BullsMilwaukee BucksIndiana Pacers

Southeast Division: Atlanta HawksCharlotte BobcatsMiami Heat | Orlando Magic

Northwest Division: OKC ThunderDenver NuggetsPortland Trailblazers

Pacific Division: LA LakersLA ClippersPhoenix Suns

Southwest Division: Houston RocketsSan Antonio SpursDallas Mavericks

Be sure to check back during the season to see how we did in our prognosticating!

Author information

Jefferson
]]>
http://saltcityhoops.com/sch-division-preview-hub/feed/ 1
Division Previews: Phoenix Suns, Pacific Division – Western Conference http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-phoenix-suns-pacific-division-western-conference/ http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-phoenix-suns-pacific-division-western-conference/#comments Tue, 26 Oct 2010 19:58:10 +0000 http://www.saltcityhoops.com/?p=2588 Author information
Jefferson
]]>
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.

The Once and Future PG Kings

Key Matchups

Steve Nash v. D-Will

This matchup showcases two of the very best point guards that play the game.  Steve Nash is a senior citizen by NBA standards – he’s 36 years old and his résumé includes a 14 year tenure in the league.  If you watch the guy napping on the sidelines while he rests, you’d think he was preparing for the stretcher to come haul him away. Despite his aching back and limited minutes, Steve Nash continues to impress.  Last season, he averaged 16.5 points and 11 assists.  Sure, running mate Amar’e Staudemire bolted for the Big Apple and a huge payday, but in the uptempo Suns’ offense, Nash will literally run circles around opponents and put up huge numbers for such a little guy.  Though Deron Williams and the Utah Jazz run a much more structured offense, D-Will in the open court looks an awful lot like a young Steve Nash: great decision making, court vision, a deadly pull-up J, and the ability to make his teammates better.  Despite the age difference, Grandpa Nash vs. D-Will is always fun to watch.

Robin Lopez v. Big Al

With the departure of Amar’e, Lopez will be forced to play more minutes than last year (he only logged 24 mins/game last year).  This just may be the season that Robin Lopez emerges as one of the better big-men in the West.  In his limited court time last year, Lopez put up more than 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 block.  Lopez might be an inch or two taller than Jefferson, but Big Al is much stronger.  Al Jefferson ought to have his way with Lopez in the paint – and should be able to score and rebound at will.  Where Utah wins this matchup, though, is with its bench.  Currently, the depth chart for the Suns at center is anemic – actually, it’s just Lopez (although 6’11” power forward Channing Frye can play some minutes at center).  Utah’s bigs ought to overwhelm the Phoenix front line, especially once Okur returns from his injury.

High Notes | Low Notes

Although Phoenix watched its team dwindle in free agency, it received some pretty nice pieces to fill out its roster.  Setting Suns include the aforementioned Amar’e, Brazilian speedster Leandro Barbosa, and Louis Amundson.  In return, Phoenix acquired Hedo Turkoglu, Hakim Warrick, and Josh Childress.  While the additions appear to offset the key off-season losses, Phoenix is an injury or two from missing the playoffs.

History

Phoenix leads the all-time series 81-71, including a victory over the Jazz in the season finale last year (heartbreaking for Jazz fans).  Recall that the winner of the final game of the regular season would clinch home court advantage and the third seed in the Western Conference.  The loser would be relegated to fifth, opening the playoffs on the road.  In that ever-so-important game, Utah’s leading scorer and rebounder, Carlos Boozer, watched from the sidelines with a strained oblique – the same injury that you get after too many Halloween sweets.  You know the rest.  Paul Millsap and Mehmet Okur got into foul trouble, and the Jazz struggled to find their rhythm.  Phoenix went on to win the game, clinch the third playoff seed (and home court advantage) – and fight their way into the Western Conference Finals (only to be ousted by the juggernaut Lakers).  Anyone else wish Al Jefferson was playing in that game instead of Boozer?

Player/Coach Notes

Phoenix’s roster includes four players drafted in the top ten:

  • Jason Richardson – 5th overall by Golden State in 2001.
  • Grant Hill – 3rd overall by Detroit in 1994.
  • Channing Frye – 8th overall by the New York Knicks in 2005.
  • Josh Childress – 6th overall by Atlanta in 2004.

Steve Nash has missed just 10 games in the past 3 years.

Of active NBA players, only Kurt Thomas and Shaquille O’Neal are older than 38 year old Grant Hill.

Outlook

The Jazz will get an early look at the Suns for the Utah home-opener on October 28th.  Unfortunately, this comes on the second night of a back-to-back (the Achilles Heel for past Utah teams).  That first home game has the potential to set the Jazz on course for another solid season at ESA, and start off the back-to-back record on the right foot.  Utah gets its second and third (and final) looks at Los Suns just before the All-Star break with a home and home set.  Phoenix is a bit of an enigma to me.  If they stay healthy and cohesive, they can run with anyone in the league – thought to be outside the playoff race last year, the Suns made a unlikely run to the Western Conference Finals.  One injury to a key player, though, and Phoenix will have to re-tool to compete in a pretty tough Western Conference.

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

Author information

Jefferson
]]>
http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-phoenix-suns-pacific-division-western-conference/feed/ 0
Division Previews: Dallas Mavericks, Southwest Division – Western Conference http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-dallas-mavericks-southwest-division-western-conference/ http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-dallas-mavericks-southwest-division-western-conference/#comments Tue, 26 Oct 2010 17:25:21 +0000 http://www.saltcityhoops.com/?p=2581 Author information
Brian Henderson
]]>

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

No Mark, you can't play in the games.

The Mavericks are a head-scratching bunch. 50 plus wins in each of the past ten seasons, and a first round exit in three of the past four, despite being perennial favorites to advance deep into the playoffs after their NBA Finals appearance against the Miami Heat in 2006. Mad Hatter Mark Cuban spares no expense to assemble the most talented roster he can buy, but the Mavs have suffered some chemistry problems, it seems, despite having done so. This is Dirk Nowitzki’s team, and he carries the burden of their success, whomever else the team surrounds him with. With offseason acquisitions, nearly half of the team is new. Dallas has only a couple of seasons left with the current core to make a march on the Lakers and return to the Finals. Can they do it? They have the talent. Will they? If the Jazz don’t do it, I’m rooting for these guys.

Key Matchups

Expect to see the following starting lineup this season for Dallas: Jason Kidd – PG, Rodrigue Beaubois – SG, Caron Butler – SF, Dirk Nowitzki-PF, Brendan Haywood – C. The following key reserves will be coming off the bench: Tyson Chandler, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson.

Dirk Nowitzki vs. Paul Millsap

Nowitzki may be one of Millsap’s toughest challenges this season. The way he spreads the floor by shooting from anywhere on the court spells trouble for Millsap, who’s much more comfortable in the post. Expect Nowitzki to have the edge in these matchups.

Jason Kidd vs. Deron Williams

Jason Kidd is one of the best point guards to ever play the game. He is top five all-time in assists. At age 37, having developed an outside shooting threat over his career, he shows no signs of slowing down. Old Guard vs. New Guard, these two seem to have parallel skills and dominance on the court.

Caron Butler and Andrei Kirilenko are evenly matched, as are Brendan Haywood and Al Jefferson. Nevermind the backup center, Tyson Chandler, may be the best #2 center in the NBA.

High Notes | Low Notes

The Mavericks are healthy thus far, which seems to be a good sign. Nearly half the team is new, which normally would be cause for concern. But such is the case with the Jazz, so, if the Mavericks can make it work, more power to them. The primary question that goes unanswered is this: Why does Dallas keep losing in the playoffs with all the talent Cuban has brought to the team?

History

The Mavericks and Jazz have only met twice in the post season, with Dallas sending Utah packing in the first round in 1986 and 2001.

Coach Notes

Head Coach Rick Carlisle had a scare this preseason with a training camp fainting spell. But this 2002 NBA Coach of the Year (with the Pistons) is back in the saddle and ready to go. He’s got an ability to relate to players (himself a former Celtic from the 1986 championship team) and he dials in his player strengths well.

Outlook

Ich werde diesen Ball in die Menge gestellt! (Photo: nba.com)

Utah plays Dallas twice in eight days in early December, followed by a late February road game and a late March home game.

Expect the Mavericks to always be in the mix as long as veterans Nowitzki and Kidd are leading the charge. Few will be surprised at a Lakers – Mavericks Western Conference Finals showdown come springtime. Then again, few will be surprised if the Mavs follow their recent pattern of bowing out to lesser talent in the first round. Which Dallas team will the NBA get this season? I’m expecting the former.

Author information

Brian Henderson
]]>
http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-dallas-mavericks-southwest-division-western-conference/feed/ 0
Division Previews: San Antonio Spurs, Southwest Division – Western Conference http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-san-antonio-spurs-southwest-division-western-conference/ http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-san-antonio-spurs-southwest-division-western-conference/#comments Mon, 25 Oct 2010 22:00:29 +0000 http://www.saltcityhoops.com/?p=2553 Author information
Jefferson
]]>
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.

Manu and Millsap demonstrate Spurs and Jazz Basketball - If you're not bleeding, you're not playing hard enough. Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Key Matchups

Tim Duncan v. Al Jefferson & Company

Tim Duncan (AKA the Big Fundamental, AKA a quiet, boring, dominant MVP) is getting old.  He’s 34 years old and this will be his 14th season in the league.  For his career, he’s averaged 21.1 points per game to go along with 11.6 rebounds.  Much to the chagrin of John Stockton and Karl Malone, David Robinson pegs Duncan as the best power forward ever to play the game (for a extended discussion comparing Duncan and Malone, check out this posting).  Duncan is a lock for the Hall of Fame, for sure.  Last season, his numbers dropped a bit, but he still averaged 17 points and 10 boards.  He may be getting old, but don’t count him out – his fundamentals serve him well, on both offense and defense.

In the sweep-clenching game last year, Duncan scored just 14 points (leaving his career point total at 19,999 – he’d pass 20K two nights later against Houston).  In that effort, Duncan went 1-5 against Millsap (for 2 points) and 1-7 against Okur (for 5 points).  Against other defenders, Duncan went 3-3 for 7 points.  Al, Paul, Memo and company will guard Duncan by committee, as usual.  The youth and depth of the Jazz ought to translate to reduced output from the Senior Statesman from San Antonio.

Tony Parker v. D-Will

When healthy, Tony Parker must be included in the discussion of the top five point guards in the league.  Unfortunately, Mr. Eva Longoria watched a good chunk of last season from the bench.  Never finding a rhythm during the year, he posted average numbers – 16 points and 5.7 dimes.  A breakout season may be looming – his contract expires at season’s end and Parker will be playing for a raise. If he stays healthy, he ought to have a pretty decent year.  Playing against Utah in only 3 of the 4 games last season, Parker averaged 21 points and 3.3 assists.  Parker gives up nearly 30 pounds to D-Will, so look for D-Will to work him into the paint and find the open man once the double-team comes.  Deron didn’t dominate him as he could have last year, but he was the far superior play-maker.  If this matchup is decided on the court (rather than by injuries), this should be fun to watch.

High Notes | Low Notes

Age

Like Boston, San Antonio is flirting with the upper-age-threshold for success.  The starting five for the Spurs (Parker, Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess, and Duncan) combine for 53 seasons of NBA experience.  Granted, there are still some miles on their collective tires, but the tread is starting to wear thin.  Despite their age (or because of their experience), the Spurs advanced to the Western Conference Semi-Finals last year, only to be swept by Phoenix.

Consistency

This team is good.  The organization is sound.  Coach Pop knows what he’s doing.  The players know that they are on a perennial playoff team that can contend for a title.  Unless their age and/or injuries catch up with them, San Antonio will continue to be a winner.

History

The Spurs lead the all-time series 82-72.  Prior to last season’s four-game sweep on the Spurs, Utah hadn’t won in San Antonio since February 28, 1999.  It was the first season-sweep of the Spurs since 1993-1994.   During that dominance of the Jazz, the Spurs reached Dynasty-Status, winning championships in 1999 and 2003 on the backs of Duncan and the Admiral David Robinson, and ‘chips in 2005 and 2007 with stars Duncan, Parker and Ginobili (“GINOBILI!”).

Player/Coach Notes

Jerry Sloan and Gregg Popovich are the two longest tenured coaches in the league.  Though the coaching carousel continues each season, the benches in San Antonio and Salt Lake City never seem to change.

Tim Duncan was one of three players to post their 20,000th career point last season.  Joining him in the feat were Dallas’ Dirk Nowitski and Boston’s Ray Allen.

Notorious sixth-man Manu Ginobili will actually start for the Spurs this year.  He started only 21 games last season when filling in for an injured Tony Parker.  Much like Sloan, Coach Pop likes to toy with the line-up.  Don’t be too surprised if Manu returns to the bench, but still puts up starter’s minutes.

Outlook

Many think that the window on their dynasty is closed.  With a elite head coach like Pop and quality, veteran talent, they could still surprise some people this season.  My best guess, though, is that age and injuries will keep San Antonio from seriously challenging in the West once the playoffs roll around.  The Jazz only face the Spurs three times this season (twice in Utah).  I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that San Antonio will steal one from Utah at home (maybe on Jan. 26th after the Jazz fly in late from a game against the Lakers on Jan. 25th?).  Utah showed us last year that it is capable of winning in the Alamodome – Utah takes this series 2-1 this year.

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

Author information

Jefferson
]]>
http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-san-antonio-spurs-southwest-division-western-conference/feed/ 2
Division Previews: Los Angeles Clippers, Pacific Division – Western Conference http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-los-angeles-clippers-pacific-division-western-conference/ http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-los-angeles-clippers-pacific-division-western-conference/#comments Fri, 22 Oct 2010 21:00:52 +0000 http://www.saltcityhoops.com/?p=2512 Author information
Mychal
]]>
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.

You think this is a comic? This was just the Clipper's Media Day. (Credit: Gabriele Dell'Otto/Marvel Comics)

Key Matchups

Gordon Hayward v Eric Gordon

Will this matchup determine the outcome of the game? No. Yet this is an important matchup to watch. Eric Gordon is the kind of player that the Jazz want Gordon Hayward to emulate. Though many people like to say Hayward is a poor man’s Korver, he might just be Korver 3.0 (you see what I did there? I skipped a generation and went straight to the 3.0). Eric Gordon is a great 3 point shooter and gets to the charity stripe often. Korver is a spot-up shooter who doesn’t draw a lot of fouls. What use is a great free throw shooter if he never gets to the line? We saw glimpses of Hayward’s ability to get to the line in the Jazz’s first preseason game against L.A. Even though Gordon was a revelation during the FIBA championships this summer, Hayward’s size and exception ball handling skills for his position mean his upside is, well, ridiculous. Hayward is big for the SG position at 6’9″. Eric Gordon is undersized for a SG at 6’3″. So watch Eric Gordon during this game and you’ll get a glimpse of what Gordon Hayward can be.

Advantage: Eric Gordon

Paul Millsap v Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin is what you get if you were to pour super soldier serum into Paul Millsap’s blood stream. He does everything Paul Millsap does but a little better. You know that part at the end of The Incredible Hulk (The good one) where Abomination, an even stronger incarnation of The Hulk, and the Hulk fight? It’s an epic battle of extreme proportions. That will be the Millsap vs. Blake Griffin matchup. Griffin is everything Paul is – just better and beast-ier. (If you enjoyed my hyperbole, you’ll love the fantastic work by JE Skeets: “Makes omelets like a young Jacques Pépin, only fluffier.”

Millsap has never been one to back down so look forward to these two battling it out for rebounds and fighting for position on the low block.

Advantage: Who cares?! This is going to be awesome!

History

Utah leads the series 94-59; 3-1 last season.

The Jazz may have beaten the Clippers 3 out of 4 times last year but this paragraph from a recap of their loss the Clippers late in the season that encapsulates the Jazz’s entire season:

The Jazz (38-22) have lost seven games this season by margins of four points or less. Had they won those games, they would be only one game behind the Lakers for the Western Conference lead — and just 2½ behind Cleveland for the NBA’s best record. Instead, they find themselves trying to hang onto fourth place and secure home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

The Jazz average 104.7 points a game against the Clippers. 4th most out of any team the Jazz play against.

Player/Coach Notes

Vinny Del Negro steps in as the Clippers’ 14th coach since Jerry Sloan began his tenure with the Utah Jazz.

Outlook

This kid is going to be good.

If this were any other team not named the Clippers I’d be predicting them to be a 50 win team. Look at their starting five: Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Ryan Gomes, Blake Griffin, and Chris Kaman. It’s a solid starting five! In fact, it’s a really good starting five. With shaky seasons possible from Phoenix and Denver, it’s not unreasonable to imagine the Clippers playing in the postseason again. But this is the Clippers. If they can forget about the name that is stitched on the front of their jerseys for 82 games, get man-child play from Griffin, and if Baron Davis can play with just a hair bigger heart than the Grinch then this is a playoff contender and a team that will be a tough matchup in the playoffs.

Follow Mychal on Twitter!

Author information

Mychal
]]>
http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-los-angeles-clippers-pacific-division-western-conference/feed/ 4
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
]]>
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.

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

Author information

Jefferson
]]>
http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-los-angeles-lakers-pacific-division-western-conference/feed/ 3
Division Previews: Portland Trailblazers, Northwest Division – Western Conference http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-portland-trailblazers-northwest-division-western-conference/ http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-portland-trailblazers-northwest-division-western-conference/#comments Thu, 21 Oct 2010 23:00:25 +0000 http://www.saltcityhoops.com/?p=2444 Author information
Jeff Lind
]]>
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.

Key Matchups

Brandon Roy v. Deron Williams – I’m trying to figure out what position Brandon Roy will play this season. He moves like a shooting guard, but has the skills of a point. With (former Jazzman) Matthews turning heads and making a name for himself, that should open Roy up to run the offense (as he’d like). He’s versatile, strong, a great passer, and has a great shot from the outside. Deron will be able to bully him on the offensive side with his size and speed, but I don’t see Deron being able to rise up on that shot too easily. They’re a mismatch on each other, and as a Jazz fan I want to give Deron the edge, but Roy has proven to be one of the more formidable offensive weapons in the west.

Wesley Matthews v. Raja Bell – After telling Wesley he wasn’t worth the cash and before the sheets went cold, we turned around and nabbed wily vet Bell to replace him. It wasn’t a slap in the face per-se (since Wesley’s pocket book really came out the winner here) but make no mistake, Matthews felt somewhat betrayed. I agree with the decision of the Jazz front office, but that doesn’t mean Matthews did. He’ll play with a chip on his shoulder and with real purpose this season, especially when the Jazz are in the building. I thought Wesley was good last year, but if the preseason rumblings actually mean anything, then he’s actually playing up to his massive contract and could prove to be a handful when we see them in the regular season.

High Notes | Low Notes

The Blazers were ridiculously banged up last year, and down the stretch it got downright comical. If you think about it, it’s amazing what they did with such a rag-tag group of guys. Almost all of their players went down with one injury or another. Well, it’s a new year and everyone is (mostly) healthy. People are excited to see Greg Oden in action, and see what he’s really made of. Because of his injuries, he’s always come across as an unfinished product, but he has the right tools to be a fantastic NBA player. He has good footwork. He’s huge. He’s got good hands around the rim. Those are three qualities that I would kill to have in a Jazz big man. It’s easy to look back at that draft and paint Portland the goat for not taking Durant, but remember… at the time, Durant couldn’t even bench the requested 185 lbs in the combine and the only major worry with Oden was his wrist. It’ll be exciting to see how he fits into the Portland scheme… assuming he can stay on the floor.

History

Last season was the 11th winningest season in Blazer history. The Blazers won 50 games (.600) and finished 3rd in the Northwest division. They played the Jazz (division rivals) four times and came up short in all four contests. Utah was Portland’s kryptonite (and from the looks of the preseason, it’s going to continue). Saying that, when you look at the whole picture there is a clear trend with the Blazers, and it’s not that they lose consistently to good teams. Quite the opposite: Portland takes care of business with crummy teams. Take a look at the list of teams THEY swept: Toronto, Sacramento, New Jersey, Minnesota, Indiana, Detroit, Charlotte, and (even) mighty San Antonio. The Blazers, unlike the Jazz, won the games they were supposed to win. Lesson to be learned: if you beat the teams that you should beat, then you’re doing a HUGE service to your team when playoff seeding comes around.

Player/Coach Notes

Nate McMillan is a good coach. He has a turn-around reputation because of his successful stints in Seattle and (currently) in Portland. When he originally arrived in Portland, the team was a mess. There were major cap problems, and serious off the court player issues. McMillan helped subdue those issues and has been instrumental in coaching up a young, talented team. Can he build on last year’s success and produce a competitive product in the midst of woeful front office conditions? I think so.

Outlook

The Blazers are at an interesting point in their franchise. They have all the talent they need to become a league power, yet injuries (for the most part) have held them from taking the last step from good to great. This is a statement year for the Blazers. Either they take that final step and establish themselves as a team to reckon with, or they risk falling into a cycle of failure. Superstars don’t sit happy on failing teams, and Brandon Roy has already begun voicing his desire to keep the offense running through him. This year represents their chance. The two biggest obstacles? 1) Health. If Roy and/or Oden can’t remain healthy, this team could be circling the toilet come playoff time. 2) The front office. Portland’s front office is a disaster. Paul Allen is a loose cannon and make no mistake; people throughout that organization are terrified of what lasting damage he can and will do. The firing of Kevin Pritchard was a complete and utter misstep, compounded now with Nate McMillan’s reluctance to sign an extension with the team. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and this could be a rager. Still, if that front office can reign itself in, and Roy ingrains himself as the (healthy) leader on offense, they should be a tough team to beat all year and an even tougher out come playoff time.

Author information

Jeff Lind
]]>
http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-portland-trailblazers-northwest-division-western-conference/feed/ 2
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
]]>

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.

Author information

Brian Henderson
]]>
http://saltcityhoops.com/division-previews-oklahoma-city-thunder-northwest-division-western-conference/feed/ 4