Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Round 1, Game 5 Postmortem: Game over man . . . game over

The Lakers, the vastly better team, won in 5 games. The final score of each of their wins and the final tally of wins (4 to 1) display a level of dominance that I believe marginalizes how close some of the games were. Perhaps in another world (or on game consoles) fans will be able to see how these two teams would match up if both were healthy (CJ with injury to shooting hand, hence bricking shot after shot; Memo injured hammy, slower than ever, only played in 2 games).

Kobe didn’t have to do it all, and his team still won. The LA crowd was also placated by tacos, we hope. It seems like the NBA head office really wanted this series to end soon, as the 5th game was on the same night that some teams were still playing their 4th game. Furthermore, when this game got dangerously close in the 4th, and after making it 6 points and with the Jazz having momentum, they were not able to get to the FT line the rest of the way (last 3 mins in a close game). This fact is odd when you look at how aggressive the Jazz were in the paint in the 4th quarter (and how odd it is that Odom can get a three point play on the other way with zero contact from Korver – and then yell and scream about it without getting a T, but Price gets one for looking at Fisher). I’m not going to blame the refs, it’s not Steve Javie’s fault that the Lakers were up 22 points on Utah. (After all, Javie almost stopped a Lakers fast break by himself)

This is a fitting end to the season though. I’m happy that it’s over – now I can concentrate on going nuts for the draft like last year.

Deron Williams struggled with his shot all series long (a product of not getting any rest?), and Boozer was a virtual no show. Price, Millsap and Kirilenko all brought it in this game – perhaps a little too little, a little too late. Sloan’s sub patterns are insane right now . . . Harpring defending PFs, not using Kirilenko at all in the 4th quarter of two games. (in the series he was the only guy to really make Kobe miss jumpers)

Sad to see Hot Rod hang up the mic, but it’s a changing of the guard in Utah right now.

A fitting end . . . of this chapter of the Jazz.

(RIP LHM)

Monday, April 27, 2009

If it’s going to end tonight . . .

. . . end it by going down fighting. I have nothing else to add.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Round 1, Game 4 Postmortem: Ko-Bee! Ko-Bee! Ko-Bee!

Wow, what that guy ever focused, or what? He was a man on a mission, and that mission was: to reassert my dominance on a small market team. For those of you who didn’t watch the game let me cut to the chase: the mission was successful. The Lakers are up 3-1, and now on the verge of closing out the series at home in LA. (Like so many people, myself included, predicted) Utah fought hard for the first half, but their offense fell off in the 2nd and could not keep up with the Kobe juggernaut.

Bench guys stepped up for the Lakers as well, while Utah looked disjointed all game long. Utah took it willingly by not playing physical or running their sets. It reminded me a lot of the Game 4 in the Western Conference Finals two seasons ago when the Jazz were manhandled at home by the Spurs. Utah then, and last night, would go inside and after getting fouled look to the refs for a call instead of making shots. Sure, there were some bad calls (and an even worse broadcast crew, dude, I think that Doris girl just did a Lewinski on Kobe at halftime) – but it’s the playoffs. You have to have the mental fortitude to play through that and force it down their throats.

Only Deron and Boozer seemed to understand that during parts of the game – and they both shot poorly compared to what they are capable of. The third best player was AK, and he didn’t get enough burn. Brewer had to go to a burn ward after the game because Kobe took it personal. Memo played his first game in weeks, and looked incapable of locating and locking on someone in transition defense. The Lakers were good on the break last game (something they didn’t capitalize on in game 3) and made the Jazz pay. Memo looked all out of it, his rust showed.

Sadly, this could have been Hot Rod’s last year behind the mic, and last game for his career. Sad that it ends in a loss.

Lakers look determined and strong. Utah looks unfocused and afraid. Looks like that thorn in the Lion’s paw only served to wake the lion up, and not be a hindrance at all.

Bravo Kobe, you had an amazing scoring game – and you did what you had to do to bounce back from a poor shooting night. This is exactly what you want from your team leader.

P.S. Bynum and Gasol have not impressed me at all in this series. If Kobe is going to get a ring this year, he’s going to need something from those two.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Round 1, Game 4: It’s simple . . .

There really is not much to say about this game. And there’s really no reason to hype up this game at all either. Both teams know what is at stake. For the Lakers it’s the potential set up blow before the knock out. You know that the Lakers would much rather win this game, and end it at home – instead of having to prolong the series to 6 (or more) games. LA wants to get a break, rest up, and be ready for the next round. In order to do that they’ve got to make this series short. How do they do that? By winning games on the road.

It’s even simpler for the Jazz – as the proverbial thorn in the lion’s paw they can extend the agony of the beast by remaining just where they are – Salt Lake City. Utah is a good home team, and they need to win this game, for the chance to live another day. If the Jazz lose this game then it’s pretty much all over on a very disappointing season. Utah has some warriors on their team though, and like that frustratingly difficult to remove thorn, they are not going to just give up.

Some Lakers fans feel like a Game 4 win is a forgone conclusion. This may be the case, but at what cost?

Small, incapable of producing a fatal wound 
– but strong enough to hurt real bad,
and potentially cripple the mightiest of beasts.

Utah is above goonery, though a 5 game series vs. the Jazz can mimic the effects of a 7 game series against a less physical foe. If the Jazz happen to win game 4, well, that means at least another 2 that the Lakers have to play (another one in Utah) – games that they would have much rather have not had to play at all. (Lots of people thought LAL – UTH = sweep)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Boozer’s filthy nasty throwdown on Gasol

Boozer just flat out owned Gasol on this play. How bad was it? It was like what Spanish history would have been like during the time of Moorish Invasions if El Cid did not exist. It was both fitly and nasty. Ask any Lakers fan and they will flat out admit that it was a great play pure luck.

!Si, Gasol es la puta de Boozer!

Round 1, Game 3 Postmortem: Luck

April 23, 2005 [Andrew D. Bernstein NBAE Getty Images] Boozer on Gasol If you look at any Lakers blogs, message boards, or even threads on (apparently team neutral blogs) like Dimemag or Ball Don’t Lie you’ll see the comments section rife with Lakers fans who completely attribute this Lakers loss (wasn’t a Jazz win) to luck. It was luck that Kobe shot so poorly. It was luck that Deron made that clutch basket (like he isn’t known for doing so in the playoffs – watch the last few Jazz series where he’s made clutch game winners/daggers in Houston, vs Golden State and against the Spurs – add the Lakers to that list). It was luck that the Jazz got the benefit of the doubt on so many calls.

Really Lakers fans? Is this the best you can do? You can’t even admit that when it counted in a sloppy game for both teams, that the Lakers did not have what it takes to get the job done – when they were up by 13 in the 3rd quarter against a team playing without their 2nd best scorer, 2nd best rebounder, best three point shooter and arguably, most clutch player?

Sore losers much? It was never about the Jazz winning the game in their minds, which is quite rude.

Of course, not all Lakers fans are like this – only the millions of them on the internet who espouse abrasive personal attacks with fandom. It’s pathetic. Man up and take the loss. It doesn’t mean your team isn’t great. It doesn’t mean that your team isn’t still a media darling that’s favored in this – and countless other possible playoff series. It just means that you guys aren’t perfect.

Utah plays great at home, and they were bound to have some bounces fall their way. The reffing wasn’t as one sided as some Lakers fans think: after all, for every one call Millsap gets there are 4 that he doesn’t get. Calling Brewer out of bounds when he wasn’t, and he was under the basket for a dunk, is also crushing. Deron’s mind farts really gave the Lakers enough chances to win this game. (8 second call)  Probably the most crazy thing is that the Lakers bigs have yet to be called for Three in the Key once this series it appears. Bynum is in the paint 5-6 seconds at a time without the ball . . . yet no calls are made.

It’s not luck that the Jazz won – after all, they are pretty good at home. It’s probably luck that the Jazz were able to own the boards against the Lakers (who are all so tall) without Memo playing a minute in this series.

Is it lucky that Kobe missed so many shots that he usually makes? Perhaps, but was it also not luck that Deron shot so poorly in Game 1 – making only 4 FGs? Or was it defense in the case of the Lakers, and luck when it comes to the Jazz . . . how about some internal consistency, guys?

Ronnie Brewer has the unenviable task of trying to limit Kobe Bryant – and he’s doing a bang up job. Last night he got some help from Carlos Boozer who showed defensive ability that we haven’t seen from him since he was in Ohio. Starting AK was important because you really give your team a chance to play better defense when you actually have your best defenders on the floor. AK was also pretty good on making his shots in the paint and making sure passes. We didn’t see much of him in the 2nd half, and it worked as Korver found his shot and Harpring found a time machine and turned back the clock like it was 2005.

Utah can’t rely on this singular win though, the Jazz have to win Game 4 to make this a true series. If they do then Lakers fans everywhere will still attribute it to luck. But whatever, Lakers fans are given a bad name online because of how some of them behave. It’s not fair. But life isn’t.

After all, as a Jazz fan I know this as we are currently starting Jarron Collins against a frontcourt tandem of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

LA Lakers at SLC in Playoffs -- Luck? Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good . . . but what’s even more true is how much a mistake it is attribute success to luck when it was actually due to being good. Utah’s record sucked this year. Does that mean that Utah is really this bad – or does having over 150 man games lost to injury make a difference? Utah is good, their record was not – due to chance (Luck’s grandmother). You don’t beat the Lakers in the playoffs due to Luck. The Pacers winning at home on a last second tip in is luck. Utah getting the W at home isn’t due to Luck. All time the Lakers are 2-10 in SLC in the playoffs. Statistics show that in that case, it’s way more likely that the LAKERS were lucky twice, instead of the Jazz getting lucky 10 times.

Luck off Lakers fans.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Round 1, Game 3: Where the Moneyman doesn’t happen for the 3rd game in a row

Before this series started it would have been sheer folly to expect the Jazz to win 4 games. I did think that the Jazz would win 1, or even 2, in the process of the eventual Lakers advancement. That seems to be a pretty optimistic when Okur is still on the shelf. Memo, as I’ve documented elsewhere, has had a pretty good season against the Lakers (getting more than 20/10 vs. a pretty good defense when you don’t even average 20/10 is impressive). That’s more is that Memo is really missed when it comes to his clutch shooting ability (like that deep three he hit over Gasol in the 4th quarter a few months ago) and floor spacing ability. Without ANY serious threats outside the Lakers can just dare the Jazz to shoot while clogging up the paint. The Lakers are facing a team that’s offensively challenged from the outside; while being long enough themselves to get back and defend the three point stripe if they need to. Really not having Memo around has hurt the Jazz more than anything else the Lakers have done so far on defense.

You can’t replace this with Jarron Collins
<youtube.com video goes here>

Sloan is now electing to start Kirilenko tonight, hopefully that means he’ll play more than 35 mins as well. A motivated Andrei is a pretty good one, it seems odd, but the more a team needs him the better he apparently is capable of playing. (Just take a look at the European championships in 2007 where it was him and some scrubs knocking off Spain in the finals, on Spain’s own home court . . . eat it Gasol, Calderon, Rudy, Ricky, Jorge, Gasol #2, that guy who used to play for the Grizzlies and has a good floater, and crew) The Jazz fans only have to look as far as last season when the Jazz knocked off the Lakers in SLC when the Lakers were healthy, and the Jazz were without Boozer and Okur. Andrei had a triple double in that game and almost a 5 x 5. I doubt that he has that in him for tonight, but he needs to play serious minutes and be effective in order for the Jazz to have a chance of defending their home court.

Deron and Booz have shown that they can’t get it done by themselves. That third man needs to step up in Memo’s absence. That guy should be Andrei, when you look at his pedigree as a top international player, former All-Defensive team member, former All-Star, MVP of Europe and well, his contract. Brewer is nice, Millsap is nice and Korver can be nice – but to beat the Lakers tonight without Memo it’s going to take something special from Andrei to get it done.

<youtube is unavailable, so enjoy this german website’s attempt instead>

BTW, there’s a LOT of swearing in this video, NSFW

Go Jazz Go!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Round 1, Game 2 Post Mortem: Lakers down Jazz in better contested game

I don’t think that this is unexpected at all. And I’m not upset with it – probably because I only watched the last 18 minutes of the game (man, catching up on overflowing DVR recordings can be a chore). I didn’t see any ridiculous calls one way or the other, and the expected unguardability of Kobe caused a variety of guys open for shots . . . again. If anything, I was surprised that guys like Ariza and Brown stayed hot. I didn’t watch every Lakers game this season, but I really did not expect these guys to be shooting it this well.

In the end, though, the Jazz were able to bring the margin (once 20) down to 3 in the 4th quarter before the Lakers made some shots, the ball bounced in a funny way a few times, and their defense and length really stepped up. Utah had to foul, and the final margin looks a lot larger than the game was in the 4th.

Kobe was Kobe, and Deron was Deron. Kobe is getting a lot of support from his team mates, while Deron pretty much has to do it alone. Utah’s wings look very timid right now – and that sucks for Utah. Korver is supposed to be a guy who shoots the ball with confidence – in this game he was missing technical free throws and rushing shots that he hasn’t even taken once all season long while avoiding shooting the ball on designed plays where he is supposed to shoot. Andrei is making an effort not to make mistakes, but at the expense of actually doing anything. (If you play video games, and are familiar with Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. you might agree that AK is a guy who is only useful when he’s not in ‘assistance on’ mode, he’s much better when he’s free and allowed to play a more dangerous game, even if he is at a risk of stalling) Brewer’s defense on Kobe was airtight on some plays, but Kobe just made some crazy shots down the stretch (nothing new), and on the other side of the ball he was getting blocked inside by Gasol and crew. C.J. Miles does not seem to be in this series at all.

Those four guys averaged 43.4 PPG in the regular season. So far in two games they have averaged 34.0 PPG. That’s a margin of 10 points. What was the final margin of last nights game? Oh yeah, 10 points. Not all the blame goes to the wings though . . . it’s just that their output is clearly less than what it should be.

Credit the Lakers defense again.

The Lakers defense hurts everyone, it’s made Millsap into a jump shooter, while earlier in the season he was a guy who could create his own shot in the paint. It’s made Boozer selectively effective on offense – though when he was healthy he was having an All-Star season. Deron Williams was credited with 7 turn overs last night. Of course, this is how the statistic is scored, but it’s not his fault when the guys he passes the ball to can’t catch. More than anything the Jazz are doing, this series seems to be predicated on what the Lakers are allowing. Their length cannot be stated enough . . . from being able to block shots inside (like Deron and Brewer getting stuff by Gasol with under 90 seconds to play in under 24 seconds of action); cut off passing angles and cause deflections – which then become steals.

It’s not like Utah got where they are today, in this season, with defense. They got to the playoffs with offense. And the Lakers are taking the Jazz right out of their comfort zone.

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. In two games the Jazz have ended up falling to the Lakers by a combined 23 points. (Yes, lowly Utah on the road) Both times the Jazz were without the services of Mehmet Okur – who (if you look at his game splits) gave the Lakers no end of trouble. He averaged (against amazing LA this season) 21.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 55.56 fg%, 44.4 3pt%, made all of his FT, and still managed 1.5 spg and 1.5 bpg.

Look at that. Utah net was –23. Okur gets 21.5 ppg vs LA. He hasn’t played yet. He’s going to play in Game 3. And Game 3 is at home – where Utah beats the Lakers 70% of the time. LA took care of their business at home, expect the Jazz to put up a very strong fight in attempt to do the same.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Round 1, Game 2: The Lakers will win, here is why.

Utah is a nice team, they’ve had injuries this year, never got it going, and it appears as though they’ve taken a huge step back from where they were last season. They have a very little shot against a team like the 2008-2009 LA Lakers.

f_lakerlanderm_1f4d577

Tonight is game 2 of the series and expect there to be adjustments in both teams’ game plans.

The Lakers did a great job of making Deron (and the rest of the Jazz) miss shots that they usually make – uncontested jumpers or layups in the paint. Utah couldn’t hit the side of a barn in last game. The Lakers length inside is just too much, Paul Millsap is only 6’8 and can usually make up the difference in height with hustle – but not against a front line that all boast over 9’ standing reaches. The Lakers also had the benefit of not needing defend one of the best three point shooters this season (44.6 3pt%, good enough for #6 in the L) due to injury, so they didn’t need to worry about floor spacing at all and could pack it into the paint with impunity. There was no fear of reprisal from the three point line at all because Deron is having an off year from deep, CJ Miles has a finger and wrist injury to his shooting hand and Andrei only makes threes in the 4th quarter of games. The only guy to contest was Kyle Korver, and Ariza had him all bottled up.

The Lakers shut down the Jazz offense. The only adjustments I can see Sloan making to counter this would be to run more isolation plays – which removes the necessary ball movement and player movement that make the Jazz offense so potent. Without Okur (or bereft of 1990’s era Illegal Defense rules) Jerry Sloan’s attack can be nerfed quite a bit. After all, having one of their worst shooting games all season long, playing with an injured starter and without their third best player the Jazz were only able to muster up 100 points on the road on the Lakers homecourt when they were completely healthy and rested. OBVIOUSLY the Lakers have nothing to fear. After all, Deron can be counted on to only make 4 FG the rest of the way, right? GOOOOO LAKERS!

On the other side of the ball the Lakers were firing on all cylinders. Kobe didn’t have to take a lot of shots, and the interior passing to and of the bigmen baffled the Jazz all game long. Utah was having fits inside trying to guard Gasol, Odom, Bynum and crew with Jarron Collins (who is the guy you call on to set up your blackberry email accounts, not to shut down All-Star centers in the paint), Carlos Boozer (who’s defense makes Collins’ defense look like Ben Wallace in comparison) and Paul Millsap. Millsap isn’t a poor defender by any means, but he’s at a terrible disadvantage in any of these matchups, Odom faces him up 18 ft from the basket and can dribble by him, Gasol is just too long and quick inside and Bynum just too big. We’ve all heard the idiom of “going into a gunfight with a knife”. Trying to defend the Lakers bigs with the three guys I listed for the Jazz is like going into a gunfight while in the process of having emergency open heart surgery – there’s just no way for things to end well for you.

The Lakers don’t need to make any adjustments here because the inside attack is predicated on the fact that the Jazz can’t stop it. This allows guys on the outside with very open looks – and if you watched last game you know that guys like Ariza, Brown and crew cannot miss open jumpers ever. It’s impossible. The Lakers will have all their role players make all of their shots. Always. Even Luke Walton. FACT! The only thing that could change this would be if Old Jerry Sloan started to actually play his centers on the other teams’ centers, instead of putting defensively challenged forwards on them. (Why is Harpring even defending PFs at all? ever?) Utah has a pair of young, raw kids who rebound and block shots with little regard for human life. They’ve been able to handle the likes of Shaq and Yao Ming during stretches of this season (when everyone was injured). Jerry has no intention of ever using them to defend the likes of Bynum . . . so Lakers fans have nothing to fear. Pau Gasol will still make class clown type of comments in the post-game press conference, including all the funny faces that we’ve all come to love.

After two games it will be LA 2 – Utah 0

You heard it here first, Internet.

Monday, April 20, 2009

You have got to be kidding me – Jeff Hornacek Mix!!!

Lots of kids watch ball now and know nothing besides Jordan, Gatorade and Penny Hardaway when it comes to the 90’s. That’s just a shame though. I’ve always contested that Manu plays like a taller, more athletic Jeff Hornacek. People laugh, but now I finally have the video evidence to support my theorems. Without further buildup, one of my All-Time fav. Jazz players . . . Jeff Hornacek!

Yes, watch it in “HQ” . . .

John Stockton ‘89 NBA Playoff averages >>> any other PG EVAR!

stock402 Let’s face it, after John Stockton there aren’t a whole lot of American born White guys who are going to be called first ballot NBA Hall of Famers. When it comes to Stock, everyone talks about the assists, the short shorts, the steals, the short shorts, that shot he made against the Rockets in the West Finals, his shorts again, that pass in the NBA Finals and then people will talk about his shorts. Some people don’t actually know that there’s more to him than just that. Maybe there’s a bit of historical revisionism/historical homerism here, but John Stockton had all these great powers as a super tough, roundhouse kicking, tears curing cancer type of guy – but true to his form – he passed them all to Chuck Norris instead. This is pretty much true, as best as I can remember it – but he was still pretty amazing. Just check out his playoff averages from the 1988-1989 season:

 

 

 

 

  • 27.3 PPG
    • 50.8 fg%
    • 90.5 ft%
    • 75.0 3pt%
  • 13.7 APG
    • 3.73 Assist to Turn Over ratio
  • 3.3 RPG
  • 3.67 SPG
  • 1.67 BPG
  • 46.3 MPG

That’s like Tony Parker’s FG% with Nash’s FT% and if you added up Deron Williams and Chris Paul’s 3PT% together! Wow!

Round 1, Game 1 Post Mortem: This is not the beginning of the end . . . just the end of the beginning!

Relax -- its just basketball By now everyone should have come off their ledges and attempted to digest this game. Utah lost game 1 of their series in LA. LA is the 1st seed, and did what they are expected to do – win their game. This should not be a surprise to anyone, nor should it be a great sense of disappointment for Jazz fans either. [It’s not like we got complete beatdowns like the Hornets did on the road, or the Blazers did at home! – Utah lost to the mighty Lakers by 13 points in a game where one starter was playing hurt, and another was injured while our best player only made 4 FG, shouldn’t the Jazz have lost  by 30?] If anything, this is not just one loss, it’s just the first move. The playoffs are a completely different animal and to complicate the already random nature of the game (a player steps up and makes shots that they shouldn’t, another ends up missing shots they usually make, one ref sees a play different than others, a time keeper starts the clock half a second too late, etc) the playoffs aren’t a simple, ‘one and done’ situation. It’s a series, a series that features game plans, adjustments and an almost ever increasing number of variables.

It’s a chess match, it’s a turn based strategy game, it’s all still far from being over – even for the lowly Utah Jazz who have less chance at success than those rebels did against the mighty empire back in Star Wars.

I’ve been an NBA Fan since 1984, and (oddly) a Jazz fan since the 1987-1988 NBA Playoffs. I’ve seen almost everything a fan can see, except an NBA championship. I’ve lived through the days of free agent excitement (“Chris Morris is going to be awesome!”), trade ups and downs (Jeff Hornacek and Rony Seiakly respectively), unfounded draft day highs (“Erick Murdock will be a great back-up to Stockton!”) and 7 1st round exits in 21 years. Playing a really talented Lakers team doesn’t scare me, and I will not be devastated by losing the series, if/when that occurs. Karl and John couldn’t get out of the 1st round 9 times in their careers – it shouldn’t destroy Deron’s career to get eliminated in the 1st round once.

Nor should the fans get too down by losing the first game of the playoffs either. It’s not like that spells ultimate doom either, Utah wasn’t supposed to win this round in the first place . . . any games we play and any experience we get from this is to our ultimate benefit. After all, in my tenure as a Jazz fan I’ve seen Utah lose the first game of the playoffs (sometimes even at home!) and still end up winning the series 3 times. I’m not insane enough to suggest that the Jazz are going to win this series – but you’re going to have to go as far back as 1988-1989 to see the Jazz get swept out of the playoffs. (How many other current playoff teams can boast the same? Very few have such a long streak of consistently making the playoffs, yet not getting swept out)

So what the Jazz are probably going to lose . . . you still have to play the games. Aside from the Celtics, no team played the Lakers harder than the Jazz did last season in the playoffs. This is, essentially, the same team – why expect the Jazz to roll over and die? They shouldn’t. Neither should the fan base.

Jazz message boards have been rife with criticisms of Jerry Sloan for the last few days. (or years, depending on which boards you frequent) I don’t agree with everything he has done this season, but one thing that I do solidly have faith in is that he is one of the better (and somehow under-rated) strategists in the game today and makes astonishingly effective game to game adjustments. [#3 on this list] he is a methodical guy who really understands fundamentals and has a very solid group of assistant coaches on hand. They go over game tape and do make solid adjustments. (Why can’t they do this during the game? I don’t know . . . maybe it’s a long processes that isn’t as quick as we fans think it is?) Of course, it’s an entirely different thing for his players to actually do what they are supposed to do. That breakdown ends up being blamed on Sloan and his game plan.

Mind you, it’s a game plan that is a work in progress as the series progresses . . . this same team, in their virgin playoff sorties, got beat down in Houston two games in a row and T-Mac was like a God, imposing his will on the likes of Gordan Giricek, Derek Fisher, Ronnie Brewer, Matt Harpring and company. Jerry looked at what else was happening in the game and decided to keep picking at something, until an opening arose. Over the 7 game series the Jazz ended up making, over-all, better net adjustments than the Rockets. Yao Ming’s production tapered off from what he was getting in the first 2 games – he was the key for Sloan’s adjusted strategy. Sloan also stroked T-Mac’s ego and made him continue feeling like a God by not changing what they were doing, and allowing 6’nothing Derek Fisher check him. Only for him to switch his defense in the 4th quarter of games to have two guys quickly bull rush T-Mac (Andrei and Memo) causing the Rockets little chance to adjust to something they had not seen before. The result was the Jazz winning game 7, on the road, after losing the first 2 games in the series – something that before then, had never been done, and remains a feat of coaching that has yet to be duplicated since.

In the playoffs you can’t take any team for granted. If the Lakers do, then don’t expect this series to be as short as some media analysts and fans alike would have pegged it for. This series is 48 minutes old. It’s not over. It’s not going to be a sweep. While the Jazz are most likely (98%-ish) going to finish on the wrong end of 4 losses, they are going to go down fighting.

Jazz fans, Lakers fans, and bloggers all over the internet: this is not the beginning of the end . . . just the end of the beginning.

Utah is going to die hard and not give up the ghost willingly as long as this guy is suiting up. You can take that to the bank.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Playoffs? PLAYOFFS!!! “Let’s Get Ready to Ruuuummmmbbbbblllleeeee!”

Micheal Buffer is ready, are you? I’ve been away from the blog these last few days because I was trying to spend as much time as possible with my family before this weekend. That’s a purely logical situation because I’m not a fan of sleeping on the couch, and also, because it’s hard to go to the park and have a picnic with a flatscreen TV. The playoffs are finally here my friends, and boy have they been exciting.

Yesterday was a day where Derek Rose showed us why he is going to be one of the Top 5 PG in the league for a very long time – if he’s not already there right now. The Baby Bulls won in overtime to beat the Boston Celtics, who are still playing without Kevin Garnett. The other East match up played out a bit more according to plan, and as a guy who lives in the Motor City, I don’t need to get into it. Out West the Spurs, without Manu, couldn’t get the job done against Dallas – making for the 2nd game of the playoffs where the lower seed won game 1. Lastly Yao Ming, Luis Scola and company completely manhandled the Blazers. It was a huge blowout, and another game where the Road team won game 1. It was a pleasure to tweet about. Of course, having the home team win only one game yesterday is going to be something brought up by the 4 head coaches of the home teams playing today. I’m not really going to expect road wins today from 75% of the teams playing (maybe 50%, though…).

This does not bode well for the Jazz. But hey, I’ve pretty much run the gamut of emotions these last few days and I’d like to say that it’s a pleasure to be in the playoffs. I don’t think that we’re at our best right now, but after the season that we’ve had with over 150+ games lost to injury, repeated nagging injuries, deaths in the Jazz family, and now the crazy chemistry problems – we’re playing with the house money now that we’re even in the playoffs at all. (As bad as we’ve played and had it – we’re still ahead of a team that has Nash, Shaq, Grant Hill, Amare*, and so forth) (*Yeah, he got injured for the rest of the season half way in it) No one would be upset with the Jazz if they didn’t make the playoffs this season with the way the season played out this year (very bad road team, esp. vs. the top teams, horrible on back to backs, and so forth).

In the first round the Jazz will face off against the NBA Champions (just ask Lakers fans, they’ve already won the title, just like last season, and every season in the history of the NBA, including future seasons, we just don’t know it yet because ‘we be hatin’), the Los Angeles Lakers. This is a less than ideal match up for the Jazz as they have speed and length at every spot save for PG. Their bench is deep and they hit a ton of threes against our defense (that seems to disregard that a three point line even exists at times). Also they are media darlings and have a noted Jazz-Killer on their roster: Kobe Bryant.

If the last game of the regular season is any indication, even if Kobe is neutralized (because he is on the bench) and the Jazz shoot a ton of FTs, Utah can only really hope to hang with the Lakers for little under 3 quarters. It looks bad right now, because it is. That does not mean that the Lakers will roll the Jazz in 4 games. LA is still very likely to win this series (only the most unfortunate injuries at the wrong time can derail them), but it’s not going to be a sweep at all.

Utah has a lot of pride at home (remember that “be proud stay loud” theme?), and is going to win in SLC. Utah even beat the Lakers earlier this season in SLC when the Jazz were not healthy. (Btw, how bad is it going into the playoffs when you’re still not healthy? That sucks…) I can just as easily see the Jazz needing to come back strong in Game 3 and winning that out of necessity. (If the refs have a recognition of where they are playing, Game 4 should also go the way of the Jazz) Realistically the Jazz will go down fighting in 5, and the best case scenario is in 6.

The main problem is that in this series our best offensive players in the paint happen to be among our worst defenders in the paint (and our best defenders are too green to impact the game greatly due to disuse over the season). This leads to relying on doubling, which itself leads to leaving homosexuals like Sasha Vaggy*itch open for threes. (What’s worse, that we let Sasha kill us, or the fact that Sasha seems to own Korver?)

Defensively the Jazz need to really step it up, which is hard to do when the ref calls fouls on you when you’re not fouling. (Like the the last game of the season Fesenko picked up two fouls just because the refs were upset that he was keeping Bynum out of the paint, or how Brewer apparently fouled Kobe on a shot when Brewer was a few inches away from Kobe) It’s not going to be a pretty series, with the games either being blowouts by the Lakers or chippy games that result in very slim wins for the Jazz.

Ultimately the goal is to show up and garner some of the respect that the Jazz lost this season. The Atlanta Hawks stood up to the Boston Celtics last season in the playoffs as the 8th seed and became very well regarded as a result. Right now everyone wants to trash the Jazz and jump on the bandwagon of more immediately successful teams (Portland, for one). I pretty much despise Portland and wish Houston all the best in that series, by the way. Utah needs to stand up and play tough playoff basketball.

The Lakers are expected to win this round, but I don’t expect the Jazz to give one inch willingly. If they do, then it may be time for me to stop being a fan of the previously very tough Jazz.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Searching for that PPF: Perfect Power Forward

Karl Malone back in '92 When you think of the Utah Jazz, you think of two things: Stockton and Malone. Right now the Jazz have a pretty good point guard in Deron Williams (career playoff averages of 20.2 ppg (46.8 fg%, 41.6 3pt%), 4.0 rpg, 9.2 apg, 1.14 spg – which aren’t too shabby). As for the Malone half of the equation, that remains to be filled despite a variety of candidates. This season’ relative lack of stability due to injuries has only magnified the problem. Unless Fesenko and Koufos turn into Shaq and Dirk over night the Jazz main players to set picks (to later be rolled or popped, as the situation calls for) for the remainder of this season (and beyond) are Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Paul Millsap and Andrei Kirilenko. I’m sure a number of playoff teams wouldn’t mind having those four guys on their roster – though each of them cannot fully duplicate what Malone could do, and sadly, even if they all where combined Malone still surpasses them all. Malone was a better, more efficient scorer inside and out than Boozer. Malone was much more consistent than Okur (and pretty clutch too, though everyone only remembers the game winners he didn’t make). Malone had the respect of the refs, unlike Paul Millsap. And while Vintage AK was a defensive beast, Malone will be remembered as one of the most solid man defenders in the paint – frequently shutting down the Admiral, while hanging 30 on him on the other side. What’s worse, is that Malone did it all in under 40 minutes, but these four guys all need more playing time than they are already getting.

And none of them are the Perfect Power Forward (PPF) – and most likely, will never be. For starters, two of them shouldn’t even be in the discussion – while he may be better served as a PF playing with a big, banging center, Okur is the center of the present for the Jazz; similarly, AK on the wing makes more sense than inside with the roster that the Jazz sport today, unless you want to start trying to guard Kobe with Matt Harpring and Morris Almond. This leaves Paul Millsap and Carlos Boozer. Or Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap. Either way, you can’t rearrange the letters to spell Karl Malone.

But do the Jazz need for lightning to strike twice? How important is it to have a Malone-clone on the team? Maybe the Jazz need to do with the power forward spot what they did with the point guard spot: not necessarily an upgrade, but an update for how the game (especially the rules of the game) have changed in the last decade. The NBA has moved to a guard oriented league even more than it used to be when decided to prevent people from actually defending guys with the ball who drive and shoot. It was thusly important for Utah to get a point guard who would frequently know when to turn off the natural point guard, ball distribution instincts, and turn on their shooting instincts. I think it’s pretty safe to say the Jazz have that now with D-Will (again, career playoff averages of over 20.2 ppg, while John’s is only 13.4 ppg.). [Btw, in the 1988-1989 NBA Playoffs John Stockton AVERAGED 27.3 ppg (50.8 fg%, 75.0 3pt%, 90.5 ft%), 3.3 apg, 3.67 spg, 1.67 bpg, 3.73:1 assist:turn over ratio and 13.7 apg – eat that Two Time MVP Steve Nash!]

Two 6'11 PFs do battle So, what would a power forward update look like? I think the largest point is that the size of the players have changed significantly over time. It’s not unlikely to see 6’8 shooting guards on teams, Malone was considered short for his day and he was 6’9. Boozer is generously listed at that height and Millsap is actually an inch shorter. Taller guys have longer arms (usually, unless you are 6’7 Ronnie Brewer with a 6’11 wingspan) and get their shots blocked less often. I think that Memo has the right height for a PF today, 6’11. The guy has to be a solid interior defender who is strong on the glass and changes shots. Very few power forwards score over 20 ppg any more, so it’s not that necessary to be a great scorer, but the player must have range to 20 feet and be able to knock down what few FTA they get. Essentially I’ve described what KG is, or what Portland Fans hope LaMarcus Aldridge will one day become. (or basically what Rasheed Wallace should have become by now)

Both Boozer and Millsap have good post games, and display the ability to hit the 15+ foot jumper. I wouldn’t call either money from 20 feet though. Both have also gone through spells where they can’t buy a made free throw. ‘Sap really would need to improve on that if he wants to start in this league and play inside. Millsap has the frame and motor of a first class energy guy, when he has to play against taller guys (like KG or Kendrick Perkins) you see him shooting jumpers more often than going inside because he’s just flat out smaller than those two. While Millsap fades on his shots against big guys, Boozer fades out of the picture almost completely (unless he’s being defended by Yao Ming). It would appear that the PPF for the Jazz may not even be on the roster radar right now. Both current players are great on the glass (especially the offensive glass), but have their failings on defense. Boozer can be a good defender and even a shot blocker (look at his Cleveland days), but he currently is not. Millsap excited fans early in his career with his gritty defense and weakside shot blocking. He’s amazing, but I wouldn’t wish to rely on him to guard centers (like this Bynum guy Lakers fans keep telling us about) for the long run – like how Malone could defend David Robinson and Shaq in the paint. The height difference is quite pronounced when ‘Sap is checking a guy 5 inches taller than him – I first saw this in the Rookie/Soph game where he and Bynum were matched up against each other. Bynum was just bigger than him all around and caused him problems on offense and defense. Defensive switches are a big part of the NBA game, and a size upgrade wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Of course, reality sets in and how many 6’11 KG types are there in the NBA, and how many of them are available for the Jazz to pick up? NBA draft websites continuously extol the virtues of kids I’ve never heard of who are all string beans of height and oozing with potential – but Kris Humphries had potential too, you know. I wouldn’t mind going to war again next season with Boozer, Millsap, Memo and AK at the four (if it somehow made financial sense) over having to rely on some 19 year old kid who has the potential to be the next Chris Webber or something. It just wouldn’t be going to war with the PPF though – and for as long as we rely on our current offensive playbook, and expect to defend guys in the paint without doubling, then the desire for a Malone-clone will continue to persist in the minds of Utah Jazz fans and coaches alike.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Twitter, people!

Okay, I know there are a number of you who read regularly. The best way to know when a new article / blog post is up is to subscribe to my twitter feed. I really only signed up an account there so I could better announce updates to my blog. Use it for how it was meant to be used, fellas! (there’s even a link to it to the right, but here it is again)

http://twitter.com/AllThatAmar

Finishing weak

Good teams finish strong. By this metric alone the Jazz may not appear to have been a good team since John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek were running around in their short shorts. Last night the Utah Jazz lost at home (didn’t I just write about being a good home team?) to the Golden State Warriors – one of the worst franchises in league history, even though they had some good times back a few decades ago (like before I was born). The Jazz’ last ten games have been absolutely horrible:

  1. @ Phoenix (4 pt loss),
  2. vs. Phoenix (5 pt win),
  3. vs. New York (8 pt win),
  4. @ Portland (21 pt loss),
  5. @ Denver (10 pt loss),
  6. vs. Minnesota (1 pt loss),
  7. @ New Orleans (14 pt win),
  8. @ Dallas (29 pt loss),
  9. @ San Antonio (6 pt loss),
  10. vs. Golden State (10 pt loss)

That’s 3 wins and 7 losses. Over that time the Jazz are a net –54 in points. That averages out to losing 10 straight games by more than 5 points each. That’s finishing pretty weak. (As opposed to “finishing strong”) The Jazz have two games remaining, a final back-to-back set at home against the Clippers, to play the Lakers the next day in LA. So that’s going to be a 1-1 split. So the Jazz will finish the season with a 3-7 record in their last 10 games. (The split vs. the LA teams will just bump off the split with Phoenix) This has to be a cause of concern, right?

Utah is probably going to end up playing the Lakers in the 1st round of the playoffs, and we’re not that great in their building. It would be one thing if the Jazz were fighting hard and on a hot streak going into the playoffs – but that’s obviously not the case at all. Didn't the Jazz flounder down the stretch last season too, and the year before that? In fact, the last time in recent history the Jazz actually finished the season out strong (i.e. kicked butt in the month of April) was that season where they didn’t make the playoffs, but ended up being 1 game out, or something close like that. (Deron’s Rookie year, 2005-2006, where the Jazz won 70.00% of their games in April)

Let’s take a look at how the Jazz have finished over the last decade and try to see if there are any significant trends, shall we? This time span shows the decline from the Stockton-to-Malone years, the AK is the man  years, the Boozer/Okur free agent bonanza era, and the current Deron Williams era. I’ve decided to look at the months of February, March, April and when possible, May. There are some pretty interesting facts when you look at it all.

First, the average wins per season for the Jazz have been 46.1 wins. The highest total was 55 wins back in 1999-2000, and the lowest was the year before we got Deron, 26, in 2004-2005. Secondly, the Jazz have won 55.80% of the games from February to May over this decade. (For those keeping score at home, that’s going 231 for 414) Utah has only bested that average winning percentage 5 times: 1999-2000 (64%), 2000-2001 (60.47%), 2006-2007 (55.82%), 2007-2008 (66.67%) and yes, this current season 2008-2009 (currently at 65.63%).

February:

The Jazz have played 117 games in this month over the last 10 seasons, and have won 74 times. That is an astounding 63.25% of the time! (In the Deron Williams era this month sees the Jazz winning 73.33% of the time!!!! Holy All-Star Snub, Batman!) This is by far the best month for the Jazz over the last decade. This is the shortest month, and while I did not go over every roster for every season, I feel like the Jazz are motivated to play in this month, and not only consistently beat the teams they are supposed to, but frequently face the best teams and beat them too during this month. Most Jazz wins over the Lakers over this span appear to occur during this month, as an example. This season has been the best February in 10 years with the Jazz running to a 10-1 record, accruing a winning percentage of 90.91%.

March:

March is the second best month over these 10 years for the Jazz. Utah has won 92 of 155 games in this month, a winning percentage of 59.35% (61.29% in the D-Will Era). While it’s not as amazing as February, it does include plenty of quality wins against Western Conference foes – this season was no different either. Our current Jazz team still managed to win 66.67% of their games in March, the second best record for the current Deron Williams Era. When you take into account the combined force of the Jazz in February and March, you have a team that wins 61.03% of the time in 272 tries. This becomes 66.36% in Deron’s career – again, may be related to his usual destruction on the court as a response to his annual All-Star snub. (Seriously, how is a guy who is 2nd Team All-NBA and has a Gold Medal not an All-Star? I guess it’s because Brandon Roy’s team usually wins more games by the time the coaches have their votes in)

April:

Compared to the previous two months, April isn’t so hot. This is, in fact, a month where the Jazz (again, over this 10 year period) lose more games than they win. Utah wins only 46.49% of the time, 52.63% of Deron Williams’ time. Both numbers are significantly below the over-all averages from these 4 months of 61.03% for 10 years, and 66.36% for just Deron’s 4. By this time the Jazz players are tired, and are trying to finish off all their back-to-back sets. I’m making an excuse here for the Jazz – by this time, they are gassed. They play a league high number of back-to-backs every year – much less than the high profile teams that they end up facing on the road at this time of the year as well! (TV games, mind you, make more money when it’s ‘IN LA’, as opposed to ‘IN SLC’) So far the Jazz of this season appear to be following a greater trend of having great Feb and March, and having a poorer April. While this season isn’t complete yet, the Jazz are currently below .500 this month – which appears to be exactly the way it goes for Utah.

May:

May has the smallest sample size of all the other months as the Jazz have only played 28 games over the 10 year span – those 28 games spread only over 4 seasons though. Furthermore, Utah is almost always going to end up with more losses than wins in may because Utah has never won an NBA title in these last 10 years (or ever). Utah, as they currently stand, has only won 42.86% of their games in this month (52.63% in Deron’s reign). They’ve only bested that average twice in ten seasons, the last two seasons: 2006-2007, 2007-2008. This season remains to be seen . . . time will only tell if the Jazz make it to playing in May.

Conclusion:

I’d actually upload the charts / bar graphs, but I’m tired and I think I’ve spent too much time on the computer this weekend. Time for a break. It’s safe to say that Utah isn’t the best team in April, and that’s no reason to jump off any bridges. In the last 10 years the Jazz have only won 42.86% of the time in Aprilyet still managed to have over-all winning percentages of (on average) 55.80% from February onwards. Why? Because the Jazz kick butt in February and March. This season is no different. This season the Jazz have stunk it up something special in April, yet have won over 65% of their games since February. How? Because the Jazz managed to win 20 of 26 games (76.92%) in the two months before April. Utah is on track guys, and has only had a good number of wins in their last 10 games before the playoffs once in the last 10 seasons – and over that same time the Jazz have failed to get out of the first round only once.

Utah does finish the regular season weak. But that does not mean the end for the Jazz, as the playoffs are a whole different animal.

Right Tracy?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

On a wing and a prayer

Pistol Pete Maravich . . . the very early zenith of Jazz wingplayers Seriously, What the Hell, Utah?

What is up with our wings? In today’s NBA you need athletic, long wings who can hit threes and play good defense. The Jazz franchise can apparently only get their wings to fulfill one (or rarely, two) of those qualities at a time. The Jazz had this Pistol Pete guy, and since then, it’s been all downhill. Griffith could dunk and hit threes, but couldn’t defend Ostertag on the perimeter. Hansen could play okay defense, and that’s really it. Jeff Malone could do none of those things, yet still was able to somehow score 20 ppg. Hornacek could hit threes, but was robbed of any athleticism by injuries and was a 6’4 shooting guard . . . so you’re automatically conceding length. Byron Russell was athletic and could hit threes . . . but as Michael Jordan proved, he wasn’t always the best defender for the job. DeShawn was athletic, and well, stupid, but that’s not a quality to have. Raja Bell was a good defender, but didn’t really learn to shoot threes until he played with Steve Nash. Gordan Giricek, uh, don’t even get me started. Derek Fisher was, well, an elderly point guard and not a wing at all.

What about today’s crew? Where to start?

Let’s start with C.J. Miles. He can hit threes. He’s athletic. That’s halfway there, so we’re looking good so far. He’s only 6’6 (which is the prototypical height for the 1988-1998 decade), and his defense has improved from non-existent to poor.

Kyle Korver, the dreamboat that gently ushers tween Utahns into puberty, is great at hitting threes. He’s slightly more athletic than I am though. So that’s not so great. He is 6’7 and gets some good blocks on guys, so he has that going for him. But I wouldn’t actually call him long, nor able to consistently play good defense.

Matt Harpring, at this stage of his career, can do nothing except foul on defense and make open 15 foot jumpers. He would fit right in with me and the rest of the guys who run in my ‘old guy league’ at the YMCA.

Morris Almond is able to hit threes and while less athletic than C.J., he’s still more athletic than Matt or Kyle. He’s also 6’6 and has only played NBA defense exactly once in his life. It was against Kevin Martin. It made me very proud. Jerry Sloan rewarded him by benching him and eventually sending him back to the NBA-DL. He may be a solid NBA player, but he does not appear to be in our long term plans.

There once was this All-Star by the name of Andrei Kirilenko. He was very long and super athletic. He was one of the top 5 defenders in franchise history as well, and was able to hit his fair share of threes. Sadly, he’s not that same guy anymore . . . it’s like he’s a buggy computer with a virus or a lot of spyware because he can only seem to work some of the time, and at that, with varying levels of functionality. Some days he doesn’t do anything at all, while other times he is athletic, long and can hit threes. His level of functional impairment seems to even vary during the course of a game . . . like the game against Phoenix where he didn’t make a shot in four quarters, yet ends up making a four point play in overtime to help the Jazz come from behind to win.

Ronnie Brewer is our Obi Wan – our only hope, it seems. He’s long and athletic. His defense is getting much better and he can hit the occasional three. Somehow this guy doesn’t even get to play in the 4th quarter of games. To make things even more ironic, we’re putting our wingman hopes on a guy who, as a kid in Arkansas, broke his own wing and it never healed properly.

Thus, I must repeat my initial statement: What the Hell, Utah?

Man . . .

Utah has to win the rest of their games this season just to CRACK 50 wins. ESPN.com suggested that the Jazz would win only 51 and I poo-pooed that prediction. Damn you ESPN for making the Jazz look even worse than they are for not even reaching your pathetic opinion of them!!!

Running and Gunning for the Hall of Fame

No doubt you’ve heard that Point God John Stockton and one of the few NBA Coaches in the 1k Club, Jerry Sloan, are both first ballot Hall of Fame inductees. There are only two coaches on that list (once you sort it by wins) that are part of the 1K Club who have better career coaching win percentages, Pat Riley and Phil Jackson, and those two coaches had the benefit of coaching Kareem, Magic, Shaq (both coaches), Kobe, Wade, Worthy, Jordan, Pippen, and so forth. How much coaching is actually needed when you’ve coached the absolute best players over four generations? Sloan is in very elite company and has done so over a career where he always had to use some pretty bad rosters – that is amazing.

Similarly, there is no point even beginning to explain how great John Stockton was/is as a basketball player. Stockton and Adam Keefe would beat Deron Williams and almost every other of Deron’s current team mates in 2 on 2 (save for Memo, Boozer or maybe Andrei). That’s high praise from someone who is quite enamored with this current Jazz roster. Furthermore, I think John is highly underrated still – for a guy who absolutely owns two All-Time NBA records and will never have to fear them being broken. We hear so much about Jordan and Kobe – yet they aren’t even close to having any record like that, let alone two. John is on my personal list of Top 10 Highest Basketball IQ’s as well. (in some type of order to be determined at a later date: Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Bob Cousy, John Stockton, Isiah Thomas, and two other guys) Sloan and Stock will join Adrian Dantley, Gail Goodrich (does he even count?), “Hot Rod” Hundley and “Pistol” Pete Maravich as part of the Jazz family who are in The Hall.\

I’m proud for each of those (former) players – the Hall appears to be a place where hard work (eventually) is recognized and celebrated. Sure, Stockton never won a ring (like the dubious ring that David Robinson won as the 3rd banana), but he was one of the Top 50 players in the history of the league. I’m not trying to make this a Stockton love-fest though . . . the question remains: who else in the Jazz family can we expect to see in the Hall of Fame?

Malone Gunning The most obvious one is Karl Malone. He’s another sure shot, first ballot Hall of Famer. For all of his faults, he was still one of the best in my opinion. Sure, he doesn’t have the rings that Duncan has – but Duncan has no where near the personal achievements that Malone has; after all, Malone never had the benefit of playing his best seasons next to a guy who made life easier on the low block like Duncan had with the previously mentioned Robinson. Malone had to go to war with Greg Ostertag and Felton Spencer – which was like going to war alone. Guys like Hakeem had Otis Thorpe, Charles Barkley and Robert Horry to help him out, just as a point of reference. You kind of need two solid bigs to win, Malone just had to do the work of two bigs. And he did. When was the last time someone averaged 30 and 10 in a season? I dare you to look it up. That guy was Karl Malone.

 

Larry at a draft long ago in the past After Karl I kind of think that Larry H. Miller, rest his soul, has an outside chance of being inducted as an Owner/Contributor. I don’t need to get into it, but at alternating times in his career he saved a small town franchise, built success in a franchise that was a perennial loser that also lost tons of money every year, and helped to end a damaging lockout during the height of the NBA’s popularity. Aside from that, it gets really slim indeed.

 

 

May 18 1998 - Jeff over Kobe [Jed Jacobsohn Getty Images] All Jazz fans love Jeff Hornacek. Dude had no right being as good as he was. Younger fans (or just newer fans) don’t know much about him because nothing is really said about him. He came to Utah on a draft deadline buzzer beating trade that sent Jeff Malone to Philly for Jeff Hornacek. Horny turned the Jazz from a solid 2nd round team into an NBA Finals team. By the time he got to the Jazz his body was breaking down, but still had tons of veteran savvy and shooting skill. Think of a shorter, less athletic Manu with a more pure stroke who didn’t flop and had a full head of hair. Also Horny had great court vision and a very high Basketball IQ. Jeff was awesome, and he rightly deserved to have his jersey retired in Utah, but he is really not going to make the Hall of Fame. (Basketball-reference.com gives him a 0.006 chance of getting in) Horny is like a lot of the Jazz family – guys who were great for us, but obviously not great enough for the Hall – like Mark Eaton and former Coach Frank Layden.

The only other guy I can think of is Deron Williams – but he’s got a lot more games to win (and maybe make an All-Star team) before he can be really brought into the conversation.

Home (aka SLC) is where the wins are

Utah, we are told, sucks on the road. I’d like to debate this point – I really would, but at the end of the day what matters on the road are wins and losses. The Jazz have too few of the first thing, and too many of the second; namely, losses. Sure, the Jazz have entered the playoffs the past two seasons on the road (hence: bereft of home court) – and have won the series 100% of the time that’s happened . . . but those wins were against the Houston Rockets. It’s not like it was against a quality team, so it’s hard for me to hang my Jazz fan cap on that. Conversely, the Jazz also win 100% of the 2nd round series (in recent memory) when they do have home court. Sure, the sample size is small, but the Jazz are currently working on that – they’ve made the playoffs for 3 straight years, for those who are counting at home, that’s more than Chris Paul’s leadership was able to produce in the same amount of time. Smarmy remarks aside, the Jazz do win at home. Some point to the altitude, the refs, the schedule, and the fans energy as part of the reason why. I’m not going to get into why the Jazz are so good at home, or even why they win; rather, I’m just going to look at the wins the Jazz have accumulated in the Deron Williams Era of Jazz basketball: the 2006-2007, 2007-2008 and the current 2008-2009 seasons (including playoffs).

Jazz Home Records 0607 0708 0809 [Excel Chart]

N.B. The chart is incomplete as there are 2 regular season home games and at least 2 playoff home games yet to be played this season.

First of all, it’s hard not to notice how good the Jazz have been at home over the last few seasons, so good that it almost makes up for the consistently frustrating yearly road losses to lesser clubs (like the Wizards, Knicks, T’wolves, Bobcats, Kings, and so forth). Almost, but not completely though. Still, Utah is hard to beat at home, especially from February onwards. This makes Utah a specifically difficult out in the playoffs, teams pretty much have to win all of their home games to counter the fact that Utah is pretty much going to win all of theirs. Sure, Utah sucks on the road – I accept the charges on that collect call. But that’s only half the games. The other half shows complete dominance at home. Sure, Cleveland is having a superb home record *this* season. I’m proud of them. That’s nice, it’s fancy, the refs really respect their players. But I contend that no team wants to have to rely on getting a playoff win in Utah. (only two losses at home in May over his entire career – how many guys even lead their team to home games in May?)

Jazz Home Records Three Year Splits [Excel Chart] How good as Utah been at home over Deron’s career? Take a look for yourself. No co-incidence that the Jazz always metamorphoses into titans of epic strength and ability after the annual Deron Williams Post-All-Star Snub – three year percentages of winning 94.74% of February home games and 95.45% of March home games paints a very clear picture. Teams are not going to go into Utah and leave with a win during this Jazz warpath.

To put it politely, road teams visiting Utah during these months should expect to be treated with slightly less care than the care bears would, if they were sent into the jungles of South East Asia to hunt Rambo.

Utah is less than stellar in April, but that’s due to many reasons – like the customary “throw away an easy home win because it’s the 5th game in 7 nights game”, we last saw this as the Jazz lost to Minnesota at home a few games ago. That doesn’t make the Jazz any less dangerous, after all – in the playoffs they don’t play back-to-back games.

 

And more importantly, in Salt Lake City, no one can hear road teams scream.

(Because the loyal and passionate Jazz fans make too much noise – which somehow makes them unclassy, but that’s a topic of another day)

2008-2009 Regular Season: What the heck happened?

March 30 2009 -- Kyle Shoots Technical [Melissa Majchrzak NBAE Getty Images]
The Jazz may finish 3rd in their division and 8th in the conference
for the first time in a very, very long time.

Do you remember those halcyon days back when the Jazz were rolling teams in the pre-season and gearing up for another 50+ win regular season? In the off-season the Jazz locked up Deron Williams to a big contract, drafted a big white guy, turned Jason Hart into Brevin Knight, and everyone else would be a year better. I remember those days. Then Deron Williams got the “Bruce Bowen treatment” from Derek Rose and the Jazz had to scramble a bit. I looked at the schedule and it did not look bad – clearly the Jazz would be able to handle this singular injury and weather the storm. The Jazz started this season 5-0 with Deron in street clothes, winning because the bench unit (Kirilenko, Millsap, Korver and Knight) was already in midseason form. Utah came back down to earth with losses to the New York Knicks and (then winless) Washington Wizards. Then people started dropping like flies: Korver went out, Boozer went out for over 40 games, AK got banged up a few times, Harpring had yet to even have a practice with the team all season, Millsap put in three seasons worth of work on both of his knees in half a season’s time and Deron was pressed into returning too soon. Still, I felt like the Jazz would be able to handle these injuries, and weather the storm. Even when the Jazz looked and played like crap, and were out of the playoffs, I felt like they could still come back and impose their will on playoff teams. Injuries played a significant part this year, but I’m not able to blame all of our problems on that.

Utah was dominant at home (as per their usual), but seemed to get even worse on the road this season. Last season was a poor road year, and I felt like the 2007-2008 regular season was supposed to remove all the silly problems from the 2006-2007 regular season. That didn’t happen, and those same problems have continued on to this season. I can’t remember the last time that the Jazz beat the Knicks, or Bobcats or any other crappy team on their court – or even the last time the Jazz beat the Heat, in Utah. The Home/Road discrepancy almost became comical where legitimate press and bloggers alike made light of Utah’s road woes (while calling into question the validity of the home wins).

Utah is better, and yet, worse than previous incarnations of the Jazz this time around. It’s absurd, yet the only real explanation for how this season has gone into the trash bin after such a promising start. Where do I begin?

NBA Playoffs Round 2 - Deron jams The starters have come a long way from those Jarron Collins/Carlos Arroyo line ups . . . even a long way from starting Derek Fisher as a two guard. Deron Williams is the 2nd best point guard in franchise history, and can take over games. Ronnie Brewer is putting it all together, making open jumpers, scoring inside, and occasionally playing lock down defense. (Essentially everything Giricek did for half a season in a contract year – check out the per game and per 36 mins averages!) The bigmen (Boozer and Okur) are one of the few tandems in the league that can hurt you so many ways on offense, while hitting the glass so hard (averaging well over 35 ppg, 18 rpg and over 4 offensive rpg for the last three seasons). Lastly, the emergence of C.J. Miles and his deep jumper necessitated moving Andrei to the bench – making the bench deeper while giving the starters another deep threat to watch out for.

It’s not just the starters/bench that look more balanced, but some of our individual players have put in a lot of work and effort on their games as well. Paul Millsap is a revelation with his strong play – previously just a hustle player, he has developed a series of face-up moves where he can score on a combination of up fakes, step-back jumpers, or whirling sorties in the paint while maintaining only one pivot foot. Kyle Korver was just a rich man’s Jud Buechler back in Philly, but over the last half of the season has been playing inspired defense, collecting boards and blocks in addition to taking all kinds of charges. Brewer, as previously mentioned, became everything we didn’t think he could become when the Jazz matched C.J. Miles’ RFA offer from the Thunder and drafted Morris Almond.

As great as this sounds on paper, this line-up isn’t that great in reality. This season Boozer and Okur (the starters who theoretically defend the basket) are averaging 0.8 bpg combined and 6.6 fouls per game – that’s a pretty bad ratio. For example, Andrei in the season that he broke down and cried still managed to average 2.1 bpg to fouling 2.5 times a game by himself – and he had to defend the Kobe’s, Wade’s and LeBron’s that season, not the paint and collect easy blocks against driving point guards. Defending the paint is really big in Jerry’s book. When you don’t have good one on one defenders (like Karl Malone or Antoine Carr), or a large defensive stopgap in the middle (like Mark Eaton or Greg Ostertag), teams know that they can go inside with impunity and score – or get to the foul line. I don’t see why Portland just doesn’t post up LaMarcus Aldridge every single play of the game because his success rate against our starting bigmen has to be in the high 80% from inside, and in the mid 40% from outside. The inability to defend the paint effectively has a trickle down effect (of doom) for our defensive schemes.

Guys like Deron or Brewer have to double down and try to discourage inside play. That leaves C.J. Miles in the situation where he has to defend two guys outside. That’s exactly the situation that some teams go for . . . you know the type, the type that really hurt the Jazz . . . teams that understand that there’s more ways to score than just going for layups, essentially, teams that have good jump shooters (the Lakers, Celtics, Magic, Heat, Trailblazers, Spurs, Cavs, Rockets, Nuggets, Phoenix, Dallas, you know stop me anytime . . .).

So, for years the Jazz have been leaving guys open from deep – this isn’t by design, this is a defensive adjustment that’s actually based on sound defensive principles – you try to defend the team from the easiest scores possible – so defending the big man 4 feet from the basket is a higher priority than the shot happy streak shooter from deep. Again, this makes sense to do – except the Jazz occasionally play teams with Jamaal Crawford’s and J.R. Smith’s occasionally . . . and that’s when things start to breakdown. It seems like each progressing year the Jazz get worse at defending the paint – which leads to even worse three point defense. Utah isn’t going to get better at defense over-all until they get better defenders inside – and this doesn’t look like it’s going to happen soon as our team has invested so much time, money and necessity on Boozer and Okur’s offense. What makes all of this worse is the fact that Boozer averaged close to 1 block per game over two seasons in Cleveland, and Memo did the same over his last season in Detroit and his first two in Utah. Since then both of them have been little help to the Jazz when it comes to defending the paint. (and yes, defensive rebounds don’t make you a good defender . . . the guy who made the guy miss the shot is a good defender, you’re just the guy who collects the ball after someone else defended well – kind of my problem with how Fesenko was thrown under the bus during the RMR, while Kosta was universally praised for collecting a lot of defensive rebounds)

Eaton blocks Otis [Bill Baptist NBAE Getty Images]Why have I devoted so much time on a “how did we get here” type of article on just interior defense? I have done so because it’s so important – our inferior interior defense is exactly why the Jazz have the record they do – more than any other effects of injuries. The Jazz had the same problems in seasons when we were healthy – this is one thing which has not improved – and perhaps gotten worse with the movement of Andrei to the bench and a severe reduction in his playing time. It’s really no surprise to me that the Jazz tend to get back in games (hence: were down in games because of an inability to stop the other team from scoring) when Kirilenko and Millsap are defending the other team’s bigmen – not when Memo or Booz are.

Good, strong interior defense isn’t just helpful in stopping bigmen from getting easy baskets, nor does its’ benefit extend only to allowing perimeter defenders to stay home on outside shooters – but it also mitigates some of the problems that good one-on-one ball handlers pose when they drive to the basket. Guards did not like having to beat John Stockton off the dribble only to be rewarded with Mark Eaton swatting their shit into the stands. Guards felt the same way about having to beat Raja Bell off the dribble only to have Greg Ostertag be there to make sure things much less sure. Guards *do* have no qualms about getting by our guards and knowing that the hard part is behind them. This is perhaps why actually developing potential road blocks Koufos and Fesenko would actually help us in the long term. (Hmmm, less Boozer/Memo lineups, more Memo/Fes and Boozer/Kosta lineups?)

The Utah Jazz offense is superb – it’s the defense that is ultimately responsible for the inability to win on the road, or beat good teams on the 2nd night of back to backs, or fully explain why the Jazz routinely lose to teams they should beat. It’s easy to look at all of the ‘other’ stuff and point blame for how this season has been a significant and measureable step back . . . injuries, off-court stuff, death of the owner, schedule, refs, and so on. This 2008-2009 season can be summed up as the season where many events occurred, but ultimately the regular season record (and eventual release of the stranglehold that we once held over the entire division – including the division title) was a product where the lack of interior defense really caught up with the Jazz.