28 April 2009

24 April 2009

Williams' game-winner puts Jazz back in series

This blog is being fueled by a Bleu Bacon Burger from Training Table and was typed while watching the Blazers get handled by the Rockets. Two things:
1) I don't get the State Farm commercial with LeBron James where I think he is mocking his friend for listening to Kid 'N Play. I guess I do get it, I just don't get why anybody would think that was a good commercial to make. LeBron will never be the commercial success that Jordan was because he is in lame commercials and he is lame in those lame commercials. Jordan's advertisments weren't great because they were cool, they were great because they added to his mystique. 'I Wanna Be Like Mike' was just another tool that MJ used to get in the heads of the entire world.
2) Van Gundy makes Mark Jackson look silly. He beats him not only in interesting, relevant comments (the quality insight score at the end of the game is usually something like JVG: 21, Mark Jackson: 1), but also in humor. Jackson was better during his year in a Jazz uniform than he is at telling a joke. I'm saying a lot when I say that.

I'm going to throw in a third thing:
3) I hope that JVG enjoys this broadcasting gig enough to not leave it for a team, but not enough that he would turn down the Jazz when Jerry Sloan decides that he's had enough. I also hope that the Jazz would pursue him. If Larry was in charge, I feel confident that some serious consideration would at least be given to hiring JVG, but Greg Miller has a goatee and wears a Livestrong bracelet, which is not only uninspiring, but also worrisome. (Update: Mark Jackson just gave the Jazz nary a chance to win tomorrow night, JVG predicts they will win; see? JVG knows)

(Wow, the Blazers have cut it to four. Oh, Battier just hit a three-pointer to put it back to a 7-point difference)


Deron Williams' performance last night paralleled the performance of the entire Jazz team, as a whole: not at all their greatest game, but perhaps their greatest moment.

Williams had a tough time getting good looks, and the few times he did, he had a hard time putting the ball in the hoop. Even free-throws were a tough deal for him, with him missing four straight at one point. But, more than any other time that I can remember, he found other ways to help Utah win. Mainly, he controlled and maintained the tempo better than he ever has, and he did it up to the final buzzer. Unlike Tuesday night and the rest of the season, the Jazz's offense in the final 90 seconds was as well-run and organized has it had been the first 47 minutes and 30 seconds.

Then, disproving my theory that the Jazz can't hit a shot in the last 15 seconds of a tight game, Williams made Fisher look silly and drained a jumper with :2.2 left. I think D-Will finally knows how to finish games.

Another great Williams moment was when he got matched up with Kobe Bryant for a play in the third quarter. The mismatch was obvious, but without hesitation, Williams committed himself to playing good defense and not giving Bryant an easy shot. D-Will anchored himself and put his body on Bryant, forcing him to take a jumper that Brewer came over and blocked.

Speaking of Brewer, he seems to get more and more comfortable playing against Bryant at The Larry. He made Bryant work for every shot he took. When Kobe did get going a little bit in the 3rd quarter, Brewer stuck with it not only physically, but mentally too. A lot of times, Brewer seems to be playing defense with his body, but his mind somewhere else. Brewer's confidence in guarding Therapist at Staples is much slower in growing, though.

Bryant was probably having an off-day, but Brewer kept with him and made sure his shot was never found. It was, by far, Brewer's best defensive performance since he was drafted. He affected Bryant's shots. With Kobe, defenders have to add even the slightest degree of difficulty to his attempts. It isn't easy, because Bryant can score in so many ways, but he can be affected, and continuous pestering can decrease his confidence. Just look at Bryant's heave with two seconds left. Kobe let it go about two dribbles before he needed to. It seemed like a conscious decision too. He took one dribble and realized, based on how Brewer had defended him all game, that the 30-footer was the most open he was going to get.

On offense, Brewer hit enough jumpers and his forays into the paint led to a sufficient amount of points and quality passes to force Bryant to keep tabs on him.

Korver and Harpring both hit gigantic shots during that crucial 4th quarter run that got Utah back in the game. Before the final quarter, both players had struggled. Korver couldn't hit anything and Harpring couldn't stay on the court enough to even get shots on account of foul trouble (he had four fouls in his first three minutes of game action). Both players played through their struggles, and ended up impacting the game in a positive way. The Jazz were +9 when Korver was on the court and +7 when Harpring was playing.

Kirilenko had a typical comeback game for him, which is to say, he was pretty great. He was penetrating the Laker defense for points that he set up or scored for himself. His defense was disruptive at important parts of the game, especially in the first half.

If Jerry Sloan was a New Age Geek Coach, he would give AK the cold shoulder or put him in the doghouse somehow before game four, then forgive him and put him back in the starting line-up in game five. Kirilenko would play amazing, like he does whenever he comes back from injury or is put back in the starting line-up. He never maintains the great play, though. It's funny that Kirilenko is such a numbers-watcher, because he played great last night but only finished with 8 points, 0 rebounds, 3 assits and one block. His impact on the game has absolutely nothing to to with statistics, but he presses on in evaluating his happiness based on the numbers he achieves. One number he should watch is rebounds, but Kirilenko's dearth of rebounds on Thursday can probably be chalked up to Boozer and Millsap grabbing EVERY SINGLE BOARD.

Millsap played awesome, but nobody noticed because of what Boozer did. Millsap pulled down 14 rebounds and finished his lay-ups. Pretty good for someone who probably realized he was seeing his chance of being the Jazz's starting PF next year be eliminated.

Despite Millsap's great game, Sloan probably made a mistake starting him over Collins to start the second half. He set the tone with his physical play and messed with Bynum so bad that Bynum only got in seven minutes of playing time. With Millsap, the defense wasn't quite as stout and a physical precedent for the final 24 minutes wasn't set.

Not only was Thursday night Boozer's greatest moment, it is also in the running for his best game so far. Yes, there were the 23 points and the 22 boards, but he also figured out a way to play defense. Also, his minutes were limited due to foul trouble. (I hope to talk more about Boozer's huge game 3 tomorrow.)

The Jazz offense wasn't as effective as it was in either game 1 or game 2, but the overall game was more productive, and the defense kept the Lakers in check.

(Houston ended up winning. Why are the Jazz the only team that can beat them? If Utah does advance onto the second round, I would want to face Portland, though, because they will be just about spent. Houston is the worst play-off match-up. They play so different from everyone else, and it isn't easy to re-adjust. It takes at least a game. Plus, it is almost impossible for a team to come out of series with them without being at least a little bit beat up and exhausted.)

Boozer takes a dump on Gasol

17 April 2009

Jazz lose, will play L.A. again

The Utah Jazz’s 125-112 loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles on Tuesday night was an all-too-fitting end to their 2008-09 regular season.

Once again, the team was not at full-strength, with injuries keeping starters Mehmet Okur and C.J. Miles out of the game with a strained right hamstring and a dislocated left index finger, respectively. Sometimes it hurts to be so true to form.

Equally befitting was yet another road loss. With a 15-26 record, Utah once again ended a season with a losing mark in games away from Energy Solutions Arena.

Playing two nights in a row again proved detrimental to the team. One of the surest bets in the NBA this season was against the Jazz in the second game of a back-to-back set. Since the season's tip off in October, Utah struggled without at least one day of rest, going 3-18 in such situations, which was among the absolute worst in the NBA.

More than anything else, in-game lapses were the biggest culprits in Utah's most recent loss, and maybe their disappointing season. They kept pinning themselves in corners that eventually proved too difficult to fight out of.

On Tuesday, when they needed 48 minutes of good basketball to have a chance to increase their playoff standing and perhaps ease their troubles, the Jazz only provided about 30 minutes.

The game started well for Utah. With Matt Harpring starting for Miles and Jarron Collins replacing Okur, the Jazz seemed to have an added amount of toughness. They not only stayed in the game, they led for a good portion of the first half.

Inconsistency made a visit during the second quarter, though, and the Jazz fell behind by nine points. They cut the deficit to 56-55 by halftime, but they were already in a defensive mode, more focused on blocking punches than throwing them.

After the intermission, L.A. again built up a 9-point lead, and the Utah again erased it. The next round of blows, though, was too much for the Jazz to handle.

Behind three-point plays by Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom and a Bryant-assisted three-point basket by Shannon Brown, the Lakers increased a one-point lead to an eight-point margin at the close of the third quarter.

Leading 91-83, the Lakers began the final quarter with a quick 10-0 run that put the Jazz down for the count. Trailing by 18, Utah seemed resigned to their fate as the Western Conference's 8-seed, never mounting any sort of a comeback.

Much like last season, when the Jazz and Lakers faced off in the second round of the playoffs, Utah struggled to defend the Lakers' big men. With Bryant watching from the bench with foul trouble, center Andrew Bynum carried the Lakers' scoring load in a first half. He finished with 20 points and combined with fellow front-line players Odom and Pau Gasol to score 58 points.

Though Lakers leading scorer Bryant had relatively low-key game due to prolonged stays on the bench, he still managed to play an integral part in putting Utah away, scoring and setting up crucial baskets. Bryant finished with 16 points on only 5-11 shooting.

For the Jazz, Deron Williams led all players with 25 points and 13 assists. Forward Andrei Kirilenko scored 20, but countered that output with six turnovers and zero blocked shots.

Despite their incomplete effort and the historic lack of success by No. 8 seeds against No. 1 seeds in the playoffs -- the bottom seed has only beat the top seed three out of 50 times -- the Jazz did provide at least one indicator of not being willing to just lay down and let L.A. roll over them in the playoffs.

In the second half, Williams took exception to Bynum running into him following a dunk by the Lakers' big man. Two plays after the collision, Williams set a pick on the much bigger Bynum that resembled a football hit by a free safety, and picked up a foul. When Bryant came to the defense of his teammate, a discussion between he and Williams ensued and both were assessed technical fouls.

Though it could have been merely frustration for the Jazz's late-season slide or legitimate retaliation, Williams' play can set the tone for the upcoming playoff series between the two teams, and served as a reminder that the Lakers will have to work hard to beat the Jazz four more times before the Utah's season is over.

Utah has until the weekend to regroup from their 2-7 finish to the season. They'll need toughness and pride similar to what Williams displayed if they are going to have any chance of defeating the Lakers in the best-of-7 series.

14 April 2009

Jazz shouldn't wait for other teams to determine their future

It seems like the Jazz almost always play their first-round playoff opponent in the last game of the season. On it's own, a season's last game always brings an onslaught of questions: Should the team give players a rest? Should it play its stars the entire game? How much effort should the team extend to grab an extra win? Should ailing players leave their uniforms in their locker, and instead wear a suit and sit on the second row?

When two eventual upcoming 1st-round opponents meet in the last game, even more questions arise. For instance, the Jazz and Lakers seem on track to meet for a session starting this weekend. Would it be better for the Jazz to lose, so as not to motivate the Lakers, thus hoping Utah can catch LA off-guard in game one? Would a win be better, because it could anger Kobe Bryant, and an angry Kobe is a selfish Kobe? Would a close win by Utah even anger the Lakers?

What about a blow-out loss by the Jazz? That might get the LA feeling casual and increase give the Jazz's motivation a much-needed jump-start. Could a blow-out actually be better?

Even more questions can be raised when you take into account that the Lakers possibly have control over which team they will see in the first round. If they would rather not play the Jazz in the first round, they could ease up and increase Utah's chances of winning tonight, then hope that either Dallas or New Orleans lose, averting an opening-round series with the Jazz.

All these questions can have more than one plausible answer before the final game, and the truthfulness of the answers are rarely known, even over time. It is impossible to say whether the way the final game of the season played out had any impact on the what eventually happened in the playoffs. It is all speculation. Which is why the best thing for a team to do, trite as it sounds, is to expend the capacity of their energy every single game of the season, whether the game is in November, April, or one of the four months in between.

Winning comes down to some combination of three things: being better, being smarter, or working harder. If both teams play fairly even in those three capacities, then a game be decided by which team did the three things best at the end of a game or which team got a fortunate bounce at a fortunate time (over-simplified, it is called luck).

In John Stockton's last or second-to-last season, the Jazz were about to be matched up with the Sacramento Kings, one of the Western Conference's best teams that year, in the first round. The Kings had some injury problems that might be detrimental, which would increase Utah's chances of prevailing. When Jerry Sloan was asked about this, he said something along the lines of, "We want each team's best effort every single game."

He's absolutely correct. Rather than trying to wrap their heads around which scenario could potentially provide a team with it's best chance to advance a round, that team is better served to instead just take care of matters themselves and win, because the time will come when they will need to beat a team on their own. A squad that relies on others for their own playoff successes can only go so far (see: Utah Jazz, 2007 Playoffs). Within the bounds of the rules, it is physically and scientifically impossible for one team to win a championship for another team. Winners have their own merits.


The thing to watch for tonight is how Ronnie Brewer plays on offense. He has started to play confident when the Jazz face the Lakers at The Larry, but he is more-than-tentative whenever Utah matches up with Bryant at Staples. A confident Brewer makes more plays on defense.

Harpring brings guts to the starting five

Tom Nissalke, before tonight's game, discusses why he likes the idea of Harpring starting:

"You know you're going to get effort. When Deron sees someone getting after it, he'll do it too, then someone else, then someone else, then someone else...."

Kind of a jab at Deron, but probably deserved. Deron's on- and off-court leadership is sometimes as non-existent as his sideburns.


It's difficult to glean anything from a win like last night's over the Clippers. The Jazz played like they don't against good teams in the first half: aggressive and attacking the hoop without reservation. Even Millsap was finishing around the hoop. They played in the second half like they usually do when they build a big lead, which is best described as uninterested.

Pehaps the two most important characteristics Harpring brings to the Jazz starting lineup is physcical play and the ability to set a tone for the game. No other Jazz player seems to be able to affect the nature of the game and Harpring's physical approach on the floor could/should serve as a good example to the rest of the team in the playoffs, so long as his body can hold up.


Have you noticed that Deron has been absorbing some hard fouls lately? Have you also noticed that it never happens when Harpring is on the floor? There's a good chance that it is total coincidence since Harpring hardly plays (only 15 minutes tonight, but they were so big that it seemed like more), but it could also be that opposing teams know they would have to answer for putting Deron on the ground if Harpring were in the game. Boozer, Okur, Brewer or Millsap needs to at least step up to the hard-fouler and call him an effer or something.

There were two incidents in tonight's game where a Jazz teammate should done more:

1) Early in the first quarter, Chris Kaman threw the ball pretty hard at Williams. It wasn't as horrible a play has the crowd at The Larry made it out to be, but someone else on the team could have walked up to Kaman and said something.

2) After Harpring got into it with Baron Davis, Kaman did the basketball equivolent of baseball's throwing at a player who is of equal importance as the player the other team who was initially hit with a pitch. Except Kaman's hit on Williams was much more blatant and violent than Harpring's elbow on Davis. Sure, Deron can stick up for himself, but the opposing team needs to know they are going to receive some pain in return if they don't ease up on Williams.

Teams aren't going to ease up on Williams until his teammates start asking them un-nicely to lay off him.

04 April 2009

don't be jealous...

...but I went to the KJZZ studio yesterday.