San Antonio Spurs @ Utah JazzEnergy Solutions Arena, Salt Lake City, UT
November 15, 2013, 8:00 PM Spurs Time
TV: FSSW - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
The start of the regular season, like the beginning of a race, sees every competitor (well, almost in this year's case) jostling for early position against the field. But while some teams have struggled and stumbled out the gate, San Antonio already appears to be coasting, on its way to a West-leading 8-1 record. A much-needed break is around the corner, but before the Spurs get a few days off, they must take on the worst team in the league, at least record-wise, when traveling to Utah tonight.
If the race were for the most ping pong balls in the upcoming draft, however, the 1-8 Jazz would be out to a commanding early lead. Utah finally picked up its first win against the Pellies on Wednesday, but they remain firmly in the lottery picture. The young team has had issues both taking care of the ball and scoring this season - they're currently 30th in the league at just 89.6 points a game - and much of that has to do with the point guard position.
Before the season began, Utah lost first-round pick Trey Burke to injury, leaving John Lucas III manning the point. Veteran Jamaal Tinsley was also picked up, but has since been cut after scoring nine points in five games. It was figured that Lucas would take on a larger role at point guard, but it was D-League standout Diante Garrett, who was brought over before the Utah victory against New Orleans on Wednesday, who actually played down the stretch of the game.
After going 0-for-6 from the three-point line against the Pelicans, Lucas was benched for the entire second half in favor of Garrett and shooting guard Alec Burks. Burks gave Utah some quality minutes at point guard next to Gordon Hayward, but Garrett led the team down the stretch, hitting one 3-point basket and coming up with some timely passes to help guide Utah to its first win of the season. Shooting percentage was the biggest difference for a struggling Utah team, as it finally shot over 50 percent as a team from the field.
Hayward is currently Utah's best player and the lone offensive weapon that opposing teams need to account for. He's averaging an impressive line of 20/6/5 this season, but the lack of quality depth around him forces him to be the scorer and the creator. Derrick Favors is probably the second-most talented player on the roster, so the Utah offense can only go as far was Hayward's offense can take them.
The low-post tandem of Favors and Enes Kanter has been a bright spot for Utah, especially on the boards and on the defensive end of the floor. Kanter is averaging 16.4 points and 7.6 rebounds from his center spot, while Favors is averaging a double-double at power forward. Burks is averaging 12.9 points a game and Spurs fan-favorite Richard Jefferson is adding just over 10 points a game, but the Utah offense is a definite work in progress and one that San Antonio should be able to control if San Antonio's offense can play efficiently.
Defensively the Jazz have struggled with keeping opponents out of the lane; even when help has come, Kanter and Favors have been put in foul trouble due to a lack of rotation. San Antonio should be able to exploit that and either score at the rim at will or kick it out to open shooters. This should be a game where both teams substitute a lot and some curious combinations could be found on the floor. Marvin Williams has contributed lately for Utah, but still no real threat off of the bench has emerged for a Utah team still trying to figure out rotations.
The Jazz know they have to be aggressive on offense - they got to the free throw line 39 times against the Pelicans. The Spurs should look to turn Utah into a jump-shooting team. They lack outside threats, which should allow San Antonio to focus its efforts on Hayward and the two young bigs.
Matchup to watch: How will San Antonio guard Gordon Hayward? The Spurs may just let the Jazz wing get his to prevent anyone else from getting hot from the floor. The Spurs aren't the type of team that will get beat by one person's 30-point performance, so It'll be interesting to see if San Antonio sends help to whomever is guarding Hayward to make him pass the ball, or if the Spurs force Hayward to have a career night for the Jazz to have any shot.
Key Bench Players
Jazz perspective can be found at the excellent SLC Dunk
Game Prediction: Spurs by 12.
As always Tony must dominate Fisher, and NBA league pass is recommended for those who are willing to pony up the cash. Almost every Spurs game will be broadcast there, which is especially helpful for those of us who aren't in the San Antonio area. Please don't post links to illegal game feeds in the game thread. Links to illegal feeds are not permitted on SBNation, but you can probably find them out there on the internets if you're resourceful and desperate.
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