In the Promontory Sports Summit, writers collaborate to answer five questions on a subject – And one.
This weekend, the Utah Jazz had one of their most successful offensive outbursts of the season so far, putting up 131 points against a hapless Raptors team. They followed that up by hanging 117 points on the Lakers in the Staples Center, good for their fourth straight victory over a team they struggled to beat at all for nearly five years, including three straight playoff exits (so, yeah-it felt good).
Where does this put the Jazz? This time around, James Peterson (@JazzInJersey), Spencer Durrant (@SpencerDurrant), Clint Peterson (@Clintonite33), Adam Raymond (@AdamRaymond5), and Braeden Jensen (@CanadianBraeden) join forces to discuss the streaking Jazz, and what will happen when the Spurs roll into town this week.
1) What changes have allowed the Jazz to score 131 and 117 points in back-to-back games?
James Peterson: The biggest change has been in willingness to make the extra (extra) pass. On the season, the Jazz average 22.9 assists per game, and were averaging 22.3 prior to the 12/7 game versus Toronto. In the Toronto game, the Jazz posted 31 assists. The Jazz dished out 26 dimes against the Lakers last night. Utah had eight players score in double digits against Toronto, and six against L.A. Harpring mentioned in the telecast last night that when you have more than five guys playing well, the scouting report goes from three pages to nine or ten pages, and it becomes much more difficult for teams to prep against you and, ultimately, beat you. I think that’s what we’re seeing now.
Spencer Durrant: The reason that the Jazz’s offense has become a blistering machine ready to victimize those who aren’t ready to defend it is simple: the Jazz are throwing the rock around, spreading the wealth, and getting everyone that steps on the court involved. In their most dominating win of the season against Toronto, the Jazz ended up with 31 assists. That’s pretty darn good if you ask me. Against the Lakers Sunday night, the Jazz had six guys post double figures in the scoring column. The Jazz is a very balanced team right now, akin to the mythological Hydra. The defense will cut off one scoring option, but two or three more open up because the spacing is great and guys are making the unselfish play and passing the ball.
Clint Peterson: Not only were assists and the extra pass up versus the Raptors and Lakers, but the Jazz’s turnovers were way down, while their eFG% (effective Field Goal percent, which takes into account the value of a three being worth more than a two) were way up compared to earlier in the season. The Jazz posted TOV%s of only 9.4% against Toronto and 8.7% against Los Angeles.
Against Toronto the Jazz posted an eFG% of .566 and against Los Angeles a .559. On the season the Utah Jazz have a TOV% of 13.6% and an eFG% of .492, so these offensive numbers might indicate the Jazz’s slow starts and O-troubles are behind them at this point since they took care of the ball and shot it much, much better than previously.
Adam Raymond: Bad defense by the Raptors and the Lakers is most likely to blame (credit?) for the high numbers the Jazz have posted the last two games. Sure, it’s been fun to watch — the Jazz ball movement has been spectacular to behold — but I think it’s important to note that the Jazz have put up big numbers against two teams that bat less than .500 in fair winds (TOR 4-17 [.019] and LAL 9-12 [.429)]).
The Lakers allowed the Jazz to move the ball anywhere they wanted, because their defensive rotations were atrocious. The Lakers are in a free-fall. Toronto is a terrible team. On paper, the Jazz should have won both of those games, and they did.
That said, in the last 5 games, the Jazz have have shot 50.5% FG, 43.9% 3PT, and 79.1% FT (their 3PT% could be higher, but they went 1 of 10 against Orlando). Those are very solid numbers. Additionally, the hustle and energy of the second team (DeMarre Carrol in particular) is incredible. How much better will it be when Favors is back?
Braeden Jensen: Ball movement! The way the ball has been “fizzing” around the perimeter (h/t @leighellis) has been beautiful to watch. Dare I say, even Spurs-esque. Getting the most open guy the best look available on the floor greatly increases your success rate. Passing up open shots for even more open shots is what helps a lot of high-octane teams like the Spurs, Thunder, and Heat.
2) Who was the MVP for the Jazz against the Lakers, and why?
James Peterson: It’s a tough call. Millsap and Demarre Carroll both deserve a hard look for this, but I’m going to go with Mo Williams. Mo was quietly but efficiently directing the offense, which allowed him to rack up nine assists. And he had a handful of stop-and-pops late in the game to keep the lead up during LA’s fourth quarter run (MoW scored 22 on the night). I don’t think your MVP always needs to have a SportsCenter-worthy highlight reel, he just needs to be the guy that makes a win possible. Last night, Mo Williams best defined that role.
Spencer Durrant: This is a tough question. The team has truly played like a team, especially against the Lakers, but I’m going to give Enes Kanter the MVP nod here. With recent injuries, Kanter has had to step up his game, and he has. The UnderKanter came off the bench with fire Sunday night, and his presence on the floor was definitely felt. He caught passes he would’ve dropped a year ago, got offensive rebounds, and most importantly, Kanter was able to be the defensive presence the Jazz need without Derrick Favors manning the paint.
Clint Peterson: Ty Corbin, with one exception to be named shortly. The NBA tends to be a game of individual matchups, first and foremost, despite the necessary team mentality. That’s not to say that you have to play one-on-one isolation ball, but rather that a smart coach will maximize their team’s chances by attempting to put on the floor at any given time the best players who have the most chances to take advantage in particular situations. This often means you’re giving something back on one end of the floor or the other, but it increases the overall odds of giving yourself a chance to win at the end. Jerry Sloan was a master of this, the result being that he was often given credit for “getting the most out of his guys.”
The one exception is that I would have put Marvin Williams on Kobe at the end, instead of Randy Foye, when the Bean was going ham and bringing the score tight. But the Jazz pulled it out in the end fairly comfortably, so I cannot complain.
Adam Raymond: My MVP for #UTAatLOLakers was Mo Williams. 8-11 FG (72%!!), 2-3 3PT, 4-5 FT (he missed one?!), for 22 pts, 9 ast, and 1 TO in just under 33 minutes. That’s elite-level ballin’, folks, even if your name is Chris Paul or Deron Williams.
Braeden Jensen: Did you see Mo?! He was fantastic! 22 points on 11 shots, 9 assists, 2 steals, and only 1 turnover. When Mo plays at that level, while making good decisions to get the rest of the team going, the Jazz are going to be a tough team to beat at home or on the road. This Lakers team is BAD defensively, but you have to take advantage of that when it’s in front of you. If Mo starts across from Chris Duhon and Darius Morris, he needs to be playing like that.
3) Are the Jazz really a better team than the Lakers?
James Peterson: Yes, right now, they are. There’s a lot of potential with the Lakers, and certainly a lot of star power. But right now, the Jazz are a better team. Last night wasn’t some fluke: the Jazz outplayed, out-hustled, and outsmarted (only 9 TOs) the Lake Show, plain and simple. Maybe things change later in the season, but I don’t think you can really make a cogent argument that the Lakers are the better team. Beyond the Jazz playing pretty well last night, the Lakers, frankly, suck.
Spencer Durrant: Yes. The Jazz are 12-10, whereas the Lakers own a lowly 9-12 record. The Lakers have Dwight Howard, arguably the most dominant center in basketball, and they don’t utilize his potential. They have Kobe Bryant, the NBA’s leading scorer this season. His team is 1-9 when he scores more than 30 points. Usually, that’s not the case in the NBA. The Jazz are just the better team because the Jazz look like a team, act like a team, and play like one. Right now, the Lakers try to keep themselves in the game, then go to Kobe and ask him to play Hero Ball to win. That’s not working, and it won’t. The Jazz are flat-out the better team.
Clint Peterson: That depends on how one would care to define “better” and “team.” Are the Jazz the more talented team of starters? No. But they do have more overall talent top to bottom than the Lakers. And the Jazz play much better as a team, so one could say that, yes, the Jazz are the better team. Since they’ve won five of seven from the Lakers now, it’s pretty clear that at least head-to-head the Jazz are the better team, quite a switch from the days where LA would win the individual matchups and the games.
Adam Raymond: The Jazz certainly were the better team last night, but the Lakers were without 2 starters. Would the Jazz have won if the Lakers were fully healthy and the Jazz were mission our starting point guard and the starting power forward?
Without a doubt, the Jazz bigs > LOLakers bigs last night. Kanter was all bull-in-a-teashop-with-high-heels-on (or some other failed Harpring-ism), and Millsap was the ‘Sap of old. Al was Al, but with a bad back — still, the Jazz bigs dominated the Lakers.
Braeden Jensen: Right now, they are. The Lakers are missing two all-star caliber starters, and also missing, for lack of a better term, some balls. They are letting teams walk all over them so far this season, and they’re not going to get back on track until they can work together as a team on the defensive end. Their offense is fine (they still have Kobe, and he’s playing out of his mind), but Dwight needs to anchor a defense that everyone else is willing to pitch in on.
4) How are the Jazz going to beat the Spurs on Wednesday?
James Peterson: Pop sends all of his starters home early. Millsap, Jefferson, Kanter and Favors all post triple-doubles. The sun burns out. Whichever.
Spencer Durrant: The Jazz will beat the Spurs Wednesday if they pass the ball and get good open looks on every offensive possession. There were very few instances against Toronto and LA that I screamed at my TV because Mo or Randy took a shot early into the 24 clock, or settled for a jumper in transition. The Jazz have been very smart with their shot selection lately, and if they can do that Wednesday night, the game against San Antonio should be very winnable. Big Al having a nice game will help too.
Clint Peterson: They are???
Well, hypothetically speaking, it will have to start with defense on the perimeter on in, an area the Jazz are still struggling with. Despite dominating both the Lakers and Raptors, Utah fell from it’s climb to 20th in D-ratings to 22nd. Supposing Derick Favors is able to reactivate that should help some, but frankly, Gregg Popovich and the Spurs have the Jazz’s number right now.
Adam Raymond: They aren’t. There’s this thing called the Mayan Apocalypse on the 21st (if you haven’t heard; change the channel from NBATV to Discovery once in a while), which means we can rejoice… the Jazz will never lose to the Spurs again after Wednesday’s game! Woo!
Braeden Jensen: Let’s be honest, it’s still the Spurs. Now that the Jazz have the Lakers monkey off their back, this is where they should focus. They can win if they don’t already chalk this game up as a loss! They shouldn’t enter the game saying, “Well, we have to respect what the Spurs are doing, they’re one of the best in the league.” That can’t be your mindset if you’re ever going to beat the best teams in the league. Come out and punch them in the mouth, then ride off into the sunset with a victory!
5) After the Lakers win, and noting their demise, where do the Jazz finish in the WC standings this year? Where do the Lakers finish?
James Peterson: The Lakers’ demise? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. I think Kobe & Friends pull it together to some degree around the All-Star break. As long as they can hover near .500 until then, they remain a threat to land a 5-8 seed. That will directly impact where the Jazz end up, as they’re currently 6th in the West. And speaking of 6th in the West, that’s about where i imagine the Jazz will find themselves in April.
Spencer Durrant: I called the Jazz to go 57-25 at the beginning of the year. Right now, that’s seeming a little lofty, seeing as they have 10 losses already. However, I think the Jazz will finish fourth in the West. The top three spots are locked with the Thunder, Grizzlies, and Spurs. 4-7 are open because no one team currently in the top 8 in the West has shown any signs of consistency, Utah included. If the Jazz can come together as a team and play smart ball like we’ve seen lately, they’ll finish fourth at a 50-32 record. As for the Lakers, I see them at seventh and only 45-37. Steve Nash will make a difference, but not a large one. There’s too much star power on one team for a successful season to work out in LA.
Clint Peterson: I had the Jazz at 6th in the Western Conference standings by year’s end, so I may as well stick with it, although they are showing a steady arc of improvement and could well end up as high as a first round home series. I mean, the Golden State Warriors aren’t gonna keep that up, are they? Steph Curry’s ankle is like a candy cane at this point, and he’s carried ‘em to where they are.
As far as the Lakers go, they will make a run or two in soft spots in the schedule, but I see absolutely no solution to their defensive woes, so likely ending up near the bottom of the West playoff contenders.
Adam Raymond: I predicted the Jazz would end up in the 7th spot, and exit in the first round against OKC. That still seems to hold true. The Lakers will make runs where and when they can, but unless they can trade Pau Gasol for a sound defensive player that is other-worldly athletic and fits D’Antoni’s run-and-gun system… they’re done. The Lakers will have to re-tool this off-season and try again next year — you know, like everyone else not named the Hea-nicks or Thun-Grizz — and I seriously doubt that Dwight stays in LA if this is how they plan to reprise the late-great Lake Show. That said, Kobe is Kobe… he’ll win more than a few games all by his lonesome — and he might just have to if he expects to win much more.
Braeden Jensen: The Lakers are going to get back on track. They’re resting Gasol and his old man knees until Nash gets back, and will surely have a run in them. The Jazz have had to work hard to get to two games above .500, and they’re sitting in a good spot considering the road-heavy schedule. If the Jazz can continue to keep their heads above water until January and February roll around, they should be in good shape. The top 4 seeds will be Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Memphis, and the Clippers, in whatever order. The remaining 4 will be up for grabs, and I think the Jazz and Lakers will be right in the thick of that race.
P.S.S.-What move (if any) do you want the Jazz to make before the trade deadline?
James Peterson: I would say bring in a defensive-minded big in exchange for Jefferson and maybe Burks, but then you lose a ton of offensive firepower. I’d rather see Millsap come off the bench (6th Man of the Year, anyone?) and allow Jefferson’s sieve-like defense be supplemented by Favors. Having a true elite-level 2 would be nice. Trade Jeremy Evans for Dwayne Wade, seems reasonable.
Spencer Durrant: I want the Jazz to make a move only if they think they have to. Right now, everyone is playing so well and so together, a trade risks breaking up that chemistry. However, another great outside shooter and ball handler is welcome on any NBA team, and if the Jazz can get a quality trade, I say do it. If not, wait until the offseason. There’s no rush in my opinion.
Clint Peterson: The NBA trade deadline is on February 21, 2013 at 3:00 PM ET this season. With 18 home games to 15 road games coming up for the Jazz I suspect a move up the standings is the most likely thing that happens.
Adam Raymond: I don’t want the Jazz to make a move. I like our roster, and want to see it develop — that said, I think the Jazz FO sees the need to make a move, and I think they will, because it’s just not possible to can sign both Jefferson and Millsap and have enough money for our rising stars — so, in theory, both Big Al and Paul are on the block.
Which one do Jazz fans prefer? Does whom the fans prefer differ from whom the FO thinks has a brighter future?
If the Jazz moving Paul Millsap meant keeping DMC long-term, would Jazz fans go for it? If the Jazz trade Paul for a shooting guard that is an elite defender (paging ’03-’04 Raja Bell), and the Jazz move up a spot in the playoff hunt, would that be preferable to letting him walk this summer?
Braeden Jensen: I love this team, which is why it is disappointing that it will probably be very different next year. I’ve learned to trust the front office, and that more times than not they will come out on top. They know what they’re doing. We don’t have Isiah Thomas or Michael Jordan making executive decisions. Does Millsap or Jefferson need to move? Maybe, but my dream scenario includes Millsap receiving the Sixth Man of the Year award and this team moving onward and upward with a lot of the pieces that are in place.
If the Jazz can somehow snag an Eric Bledsoe, Tyreke Evans, or another star-caliber (or close to) perimeter player, I’m sure the front office will do their due diligence in guiding this team into a brighter future.