Dallas Mavericks vs Utah Jazz / Feb. 1, 2010
Energy Solutions Arena 7:00 PM MDT
January 31st, 2010 by Clint Peterson / Special to Salt City Hoops
Salt Lake City, UT - Monday night’s game is the third of just three installments for this pair this season, and while showdowns between these two teams are always interesting, the Utah Jazz come into the game among the hottest of the hot in The Association, along with the Denver Nuggets and Cleveland Cavaliers. The teams split the two previous meetings, both of which were in Dallas. This time the venue will be Energy Solutions Arena, where the Jazz have re-discovered their home-court swagger. Utah holds the 4th-best home record in the Western Conference as of this writing, while Dallas is 11-12 on the road this season, 5-6 versus Western playoff contenders this NBA year, and 4-3 versus the Northwest Division overall.
The Mavs come into Monday’s matchup reeling from a tough overtime loss on Saturday to Portland, courtesy of Andre Miller’s 52 point game. Dirk Nowitzki is having a great year, but has struggled of late, relatively speaking. He’s garnering fewer rebounds and taking fewer 3-pointers than he has in years. I suppose what I’m saying is that this Dirk has been MIA for a while, after getting some sparse MVP talk earlier in the year. Nowitzki has reached the free throw line more times than usual over the last few games as well, making the talk that he’s skittish due to the enamel in his elbow, courtesy of Carl Landry, suspect in my book. Slump or not, Nowitzki is always a tough matchup for the Jazz.
Returning to the lineup for the Jazz will be first-time All-Star Deron Williams (’bout time, huh?), back from his personal leave of absence to attend a funeral. He may not hang 52 on Jason Kidd and Co., like former Ute Andre Miller just did, but it’s also not needed. The Jazz are sharing the ball well lately, and since the loss to the Celtics in Boston way back in November, Utah managed to grow their league-leading team assist total by a full dime-a-game over the last month, amazingly enough.
Things to keep an eye on:
Dirk is gonna get to the line; 27 times total in the two meetings so far. It’s who defends him that will make the difference. Teams have had success denying him the ball recently, and we all remember just how frustrated Nowitzki can get with a certain Jazz player who just happens to be playing at his former All-Star level right now, Andrei Kirilenko. These two have history! Personally, I was surprised that Sloan didn’t put AK-47 on Dirk more in the first meeting. Memo Okur just can’t seem to slow him down nearly enough (go back and watch the “this Dirk” video again, for proof of this).
With Carlos Boozer most likely out (he wore practice gear Sunday, doing cardio work) until the end of the week, the key to victory for the Jazz will be defensive rotations and keeping the Mavs’ Jason Terry from slicing down the middle. There must be a presence in the paint, especially on the offensive end, and crisp passing. The Jazz turned it over too many times in the first game vs Dallas, but matched a franchise low with a mere 5 giveaways in the second showdown, earning the W in Dallas.
Making smart shot selections is critical. Deron Williams shot 53% in the win over the Mavs. He could be the difference between a “W” or an “L.”
In the loss, the rebounding gap was much wider than in the win. The Jazz aren’t a top rebounding team, but tend to win games when they win the battle of the boards. Mehmet Okur, I’m looking at you.
Paul Millsap is a matchup problem for Dallas, so his continued stellar stand-in play will be a big factor in determining the victor.
Now, the only questions that remain are, will D Will be done doing his Billy Gibbons impression? Will Andrei be thanking Old Spice? And will the Jazz have pulled to within one-half game of the 3rd spot in the West?
Editor’s note: Clint Peterson is a new contributor to Salt City Hoops. Let him have it in the comments, and catch him hosting the ESPN Daily Dime Live chat during the Jazz-Mavs game on Monday night.