New Orleans vs. the Jazz

The Hornets will try to stretch this winning streak out even further at the Hive tonight. Their opponent: a Utah Jazz squad that plays 35-4 ball at home, but 16-22 away from EnergySolutions Arena. The Hornets have won, are in the lead or are tied in the season series with every Western Conference team, except for Utah. Tonight allows us the opportunity to even the series at 2-2, and continue swinging the momentum back to CP in a Deron Williams’ dominated matchup. I talked to Zach of All Jazzed Up earlier this season, and he helped me preview the matchup once again:

At the Hive: I’ll start with the question that seems to have riddled the Jazz all year- why can’t they win on the road? Utah is devastatingly efficient at home, yet has lost to teams like Miami, the Clippers, and Minnesota on the road. What gives?

All Jazzed Up: You know what…I don’t know.  It is puzzling.  The only comfort that I think Jazz fans can take in Utah’s road play this season is that they play much better against the contenders on the road than they do against the bottom-of-the-conference cellar-dwellers.  And it is the contenders, not the lottery teams, the Minnesota’s, the Miami’s or the New York’s or L.A.’s (Clippers, not Lakers, of course), that will be in the playoffs.  For example, the Jazz beat Phoenix, Boston, Detroit, Orlando, Denver and Houston on the road, but lost to the above-mentioned far-below .500 teams.  It would be laughable, were it not so tragic.  A few victories over those teams would put the Jazz record up at the top of the conference with your Hornets.  It is funny though.

At the Hive: Utah has arguably the toughest closing 5 game stretch in the West (@New Orleans, @Dallas, Denver, Houston, @San Antonio). Given that at least two of those teams will be fighting for their playoff lives, how do you think the Jazz fare, and what seed do they get?

All Jazzed Up: I think that we Jazz fans would have more to worry about in this season finale 5-game stretch against top Western conference playoff teams if the 5-game stretch looked more like this: @ Minnesota, @ Charlotte, vs. Portland, vs. LA Clippers, @ Miami.  The Jazz seem to play very well against the top teams in the league, so I think they’ll be okay.  I’ll go with a prediction of 4-1, possibly 3-2 in this final 5 games resulting in either a 55-27 or 54-28 record and still the #4 spot in the playoffs.

At the Hive: Talk a little bit about Kyle Korver- obviously the guy is a lights-out shooter, but what other dimensions has he helped improve the Jazz in overall? Utah has the #1 most efficient offense in the League, so something must be up.

All Jazzed Up: On to Korver, one of the most liked players on the Jazz, since he arrived mid-season.  The main thing, as you mentioned, that Korver has added to the Jazz is that long-range shooting threat which not only helps the Jazz with knocking down the treys, but with that threat, he spreads the defense out so there is more spacing for Boozer and Millsap to work in the paint along with even Okur at times and Harpring and Brewer getting more open looks on their curl and backdoor cuts, which result in good solid layups a lot of the time.  The main thing he has added, though, is that Jeff Hornacek-like aspect and advantage on offense. And with that comes the very proficient and team-high free-throw shooting percentage which is a great benefit and plus at the end of games.

At the Hive: Utah, as I mentioned, has the most efficient offense, the best offensive rebounding percentage in the West, and the second best effective field goal percentage in the West. Does this team have an Achilles’ heel? Which team in the West is most suited to exploit that weakness (and thus, who would you least like to see in the playoffs)?

All Jazzed Up: I think that Utah’s only Achilles’ really is themselves.  It’s when they play lackluster defense and look asleep like they’ve played in games against those cellar-dwellers on the road.  When they assert themselves, they can play tough, solid defense and continue to produce offensively.  Basically, it’s up to them.  Given that, I would have to say that the Lakers are the most fit to give the Jazz trouble.  One reason alone is one man: Kobe Bryant.  When he gets going in his madness and mindset to destroy the Jazz, he is near impossible to stop, if not impossible.  The Jazz lost the season series to the Lakers 3-1 this year, the only team out of the 8 other playoff contenders that they have not either won the series or have a chance to do so or tie in their final 5 games.  The other would be the Spurs, but I think the Jazz have figured out a way to play better against them and possibly beat them, or at least they have gotten better at playing against Duncan, Ginobli and Parker over the past year.  The Jazz can win the season series with the Spurs if they can break a 17-game losing streak (20-game including last year’s playoffs) on the Spurs’ home court at the AT&T
Center in San Antonio if they can beat them next Wednesday in the season finale.

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