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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs @ Utah Jazz

The Spurs kick off a back-to-back by heading to Salt Lake City to tango with a reeling young Utah Jazz team.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio Spurs @ Utah Jazz

EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
December 9, 2014, 8 p.m. Spurs Time

Team-building through the draft is hard -- just ask the Utah Jazz, who have six young lottery picks in their ranks and are still struggling to make sense of their roster.

After an intriguing start to the year, they've now lost nine games in a row and can probably start setting their sights on next June's draft. They simply don't have the talent or the experience to compete in the West, even with some intriguing pieces and new head coach (and former Austin Toros coach) Quin Snyder receiving early praise. And when you have a fiery coach on a growing team, you're likely to have a few moments like this (HT to SLC Dunk):

This is a team that's pushed its chips in behind a core of Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks for the near future. Each player's game has its obvious warts at this point, but the Jazz could be true franchise player (the jury's still out on Aussie rookie Dante Exum) away from making waves in the league.

Burks (shoulder) came back from injury last night after missing a few games. He brings the ability to create to a team with limited options, and finds himself as the focal point of the offense when he's with the second unit. Second-year player Trey Burke is developing into a decent starting PG. With another year under his belt, much of the play-making duties are now off Gordon Hayward's plate, which has been a positive. After shouldering too much responsibility last season, the former Butler standout is looking more comfortable, with his efficiency increasing alongside his usage rate. His averages of 18.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game are career-highs, as is a PER hovering around 20.

The frontcourt duo of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter provides differing skillsets on both sides of the court, which don't seem to complement each other. They're finally getting to play more significant minutes together, but the early results haven't been too promising, and Favors is yet to develop into the dominant force some hoped he'd be.

Speaking of dominant forces! The Spurs are expecting the return of Tiago Splitter (out most recently with a calf injury), which will be a welcome sight to those concerned with the status of his health. I wouldn't expect big minutes from Sparkles tonight, but the more reps he gets before the schedule gets tough, the better. In his stead, Aron Baynes has filled in remarkably, although has not yet proven himself as the defender Splitter is. His role will diminish some as Splitter gets re-integrated, but he'll still have a place in the rotation after making Jeff Ayres (or Ayres making himself) relatively obsolete.

The Jazz are coming off a late Monday nighter in Sacramento, while the Spurs will be gearing up for a game the following night at home against New York. I'll call that a push, knowing that there will be an eye on the minute count of all key Spurs players.

Where there shouldn't be a push is outside shooting, with Utah being one of the worst in defending the three ball. Only Dallas, Boston and Minnesota allow a better percentage, and good ball movement and effective penetration -- starting with Tony Parker taking advantage of Burke -- should net open looks for Spurs shooters all night.

Lacking an elite talent that's specialized on one end or the other, it's little surprise the Jazz rank in the bottom third in points scored and points allowed. There's always a chance the Spurs lay an egg like they did against Brooklyn, but these are games that the Good Guys can't really afford to give up.

Matchup to watch: Kawhi Leonard and Gordon Hayward are two talented small forwards who have taken very different roads to becoming foundations for their teams. While one has been eased into a do-it-all role under the cover of three future Hall-of-Famers, the other was thrust into leading a team of youngsters. Both should be aggressive early in this game, which should make for good viewing as long as/if the score remains close.

Update: Tiago Splitter won't play tonight, and neither will Tony Parker (hamstring).


Utah Jazz (5-16)

San Antonio Spurs (15-5)

December 9, 2014

EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah

8 p.m. CST


Radio: WOAI 1200AM


Trey Burke


Cory Joseph

Alec Burks


Danny Green

Gordon Hayward


Kawhi Leonard

Derrick Favors


Matt Bonner

Enes Kanter


Tim Duncan

Game prediction: Spurs by 15.

For the Jazz perspective, visit SLC Dunk.

As always, Tony must dominate Fisher, and you can get your San Antonio Spurs tickets from Daniel Farias with Spurs Sports & Entertainment: Tel: 210-444-5607 |