According to Pop, the Jazz have always been a measuring stick for the Spurs. Every season, Pop gets to figure out how our boys will react to one of the best system offenses the NBA has ever seen. The Jazz have been running nearly the same offense for the past 22 years under the incomparable Jerry Sloan. I want you to sit and think for a second. Jerry Sloan was coaching the Jazz when Robinson was still in the Navy, Pop had just gotten out of the CIA and joined Larry Brown as an assistant for the Spurs and our starting center hadn't even been born yet. In a league where the average coach spends 3 years with a team before being fired, Sloan has been nothing short of amazing. The only serious criticism of him is that he never won a title.
By most accounts, the Jazz appeared to be ready to take the league in 2007 when they reached the WCF. Unfortunately for them, the Spurs were having none of it and crushed them in 5 games. Since that point, the Jazz have won only a single (ed. TWO! thanks SpurredOn) playoff series which has to be considered a disappointment for one of the best point guards in the league.
Pushed aside this season by the darling Zombie Sonics, the Jazz are a dark horse to win their division this season. In fact, just earlier this year, they waltzed down to Florida and beat Miami and Orlando on back to backs (both games they came back from being down double digits) and then went to Charlotte for a THIGAFONI and again came back from down double digits to win.
Salt Lake City is an extremely difficult place to beat the Jazz. This year, though, has been an anomaly for them as they already have 7 losses (they only had 9 losses in the entire 09-10 season and just 8 the year before). They compete with OKC for the loudest crowd in my opinion, and the refs usually call the fouls to the crowd's delight. I wish I could find home vs. away splits on how many free throws Jazz opponents get, but I can't. All I can tell you is that they give up an average of 28 free throws a game; 3 over the league average of 25. This is a physically imposing defense and I expect a lot of Spurs getting knocked to the floor (especially with how NYY and NOH have shown the Spurs can be pushed around).
I realize that I have discussed the Jazz more than I have the Spurs and anyone stumbling on the site might think this was a Utah blog. So, I'll just swing back to the good side. Like I said at the beginning, Pop considers the Jazz the litmus test for the Spurs to get in playoff basketball. Last year, we were swept by the Jazz in our regular season games against them, and it was obviously a sign of things to come. I expect us to come out with a sense of urgency and revenge. Speaking of revenge, I'm going to give one of my thoughts on the season. I was planning on saving this for a fanpost, but I can tip my hand just a little. I have never seen a team with such a chip on its shoulder. Obviously they all have something to prove: Neal - legitimate NBA player, Blair - no ACLs, Tony - all that talk that he was washed up last year, Duncan - too old, Manu - well, Manu just looks legitimately pissed. If I could liken him to any fictional character, the first that comes to mind is Creasy from Man on Fire, played by Denzel Washington. A finally-healthy, over-the-top competitor, who barely lifts up his hand when hitting a buzzer-beating game winner, and he is feasting on the meal in front of him.
San Antonio Spurs vs/@ Utah Jazz
Where: Energy Solutions Arena, Salt Lake City
When: January 26, 2011, 8:30 PM Spurs Time - Timezone Converter
By the Numbers
PG: Deron is one of the few point guards who is as good as Tony. If we win this matchup, our odds increase drastically. Also, Parker needs to dominate Fisher.
SG: Whether it's allergies, exhaustion, or just getting tired of being knocked to the ground without getting that foul called, Manu always wins!
SF: AK-47 is everything RJ 2.0 is, except with hair. AK will probably match up with Manu at points as well.
PF: Blair has been on a roll (what Hornets game?) recently, but Millsap has been here longer than Blair. He also nailed 11 points in 28 seconds to send the Heat game into overtime. When Blair starts hitting 3's, then we'll talk about a Spur here.
C: Normally, I would give Jefferson a Spur here. He has been underwhelming so far, which is disappointing. He has some of the best post moves (second to Duncan) and has had big games against us in the past.
George and Neal are obviously better than their Utah counterparts. However, the fabled San Antonio depth has bit the injury bug. I hope Splitter is up to the challenge today.
I already patted Sloan on the back enough. He needs to win a coach of the year award this year, mostly to save Pop the embarrassment.
Spurs still have a recent Saturday on their mind. Utah is on a 5 game losing streak with a game last night against the Lakers
The Lucky Duncan Jersey is coming out. This year it has a +/- of about +30 a game. We got mojo!
I expect the good guys to be up by double digits in the first half. The Jazz will make a game of it with SA prevailing on some timely Jefferson 3's off Manu's penetration.
Key(s) to the Game
Key 1 - Only one today. We can't let their physicality throw us off our game. The last few games have gotten physical and it has thrown a kink in our offense.
48 Minutes of Hell - They just keep getting better. If their community was less ESPNish, I probably would've never made it to this blog.
Salt Lake City Dunk - Be Kind, Rewind.
It's on ESPN, which means another round of talking heads talking about what was happening in Spurs nation in November.
WOAI 1200AM; Audio League Pass[streaming]
As always, 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. You can also shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org(IMPORTANT: Please include your PtR username in the email for reference) for further assistance.