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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Utah Jazz

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Utah won the last meeting in Salt Lake, but the Spurs are healthier and coming off one of their best wins of the season. Can they keep rolling and avoid dropping another game to a young Jazz team?

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio Spurs vs. Utah Jazz

AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas
January 18, 2015, 6:00 p.m. Spurs Time
TV: FSSW - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI

Apparently it's a good thing to have your Finals MVP back in the lineup.

Kawhi Leonard, out for a month with a hand injury, re-joined the team against Portland this Friday and immediately showed his value. He made three of the team's six first buckets before sitting down, but by then it looked like the tone of the game had been set.

It doesn't stop with the return of The Hand, though. Tony Parker is playing with a bit more bounce; Patty Mills is getting better with each game; Boris Diaw is getting chasedown blocks, and, most importantly, the ball is starting to move like it did last year. The Spurs had 34 assists on 42 field goals against the Blazers, dropping 116 points against one of the league's highest ranked defenses.

Tonight the Spurs get a chance at revenge against a team that stole one from them in early December. In that matchup, the Spurs were without Tony and lost the battle in the paint to the two young bigs, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.

Utah also got a big contribution that night from Gordon Hayward, whose game continues to grow each year as his hairdo resembles more and more that of a TV weatherman. He looks much more comfortable in his role this season, no longer the single focal point of opposing defenses. He remains Utah's best offensive weapon -- and is especially good at running the floor and playing iso ball -- but the Jazz offense has much more movement to it now, and Hayward's efficiency has benefited from that.

With shooting guard Alec Burks out for the year, 27-year-old Aussie rookie Joe Ingles has carved out a place for himself in the starting lineup, due in large part to his hustle and savvy play. He's not exceptional at anything in particular, but he makes smart, unselfish plays and positions himself well on the defensive end to intercept passes.

As much as I like "Jingles", I'm not sure he's capable of chasing Danny Green around screens for too long. If it's not working out, they may rely more on rookie Rodney Hood, who's recently returned from injury.

Defensively the Jazz are good at causing turnovers and challenging shots, especially when Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors are on the floor at the same time. At 7'1' and with a mile-long wingspan, Gobert was always going to be an intriguing defensive prospect. But now that he's becoming more of a two-way player, and staying out of foul trouble, he's become one of their most important players. You can expect his talent and length to produce a jaw-dropping play or two tonight.

Quin Snyder's motion offense system routinely uses clever screening to set up good looks and lanes for big men to roll to the hoop, although the team's inexperience means that they don't always make the most of those opportunities.

It goes without saying that the Spurs are a different team with a healthy Leonard back in. After the impressive showing Friday night, I'm looking for the Spurs to hit a nice groove as they prepare for the annual Rodeo Road Trip.

Matchup to watch: Gregg Popovich's leer vs. Quin Snyder's scowl. We know about Pop's surly demeanor. Meanwhile, over in Utah, the former Austin Spurs/Toros coach is the NBA's Rust Cohle. The way he broods and sweats on the sideline during games is like he's trying to find Carcosa within the opposing team's defensive spacing. I'm not sure how Vegas would set the money line here, but I'm going with the winning coach being the one with the nastiest leer at the end of the game.

vs.

Utah Jazz (14-26)

San Antonio Spurs (25-16)

January 18, 2015

AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas

6:00 p.m. CST

TV: FSSW

Radio: WOAI 1200AM

Starters

Trey Burke

PG

Tony Parker

Joe Ingles

SG

Danny Green

Gordon Hayward

SF

Kawhi Leonard

Derrick Favors

PF

Tiago Splitter

Enes Kanter

C

Tim Duncan


Game prediction: Spurs by 12.

For the Jazz fans' 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 | dfarias@attcenter.com