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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Utah Jazz

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With Kawhi Leonard back, the Spurs head to Salt Lake City on a SEGABABA as they look to improve to 6-1 on the Rodeo Road Trip.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio Spurs @ Utah Jazz

EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, UT
February 25, 2016, 9:30 p.m. Spurs Time
TV: FSSW Radio: 1200 AM WOAI

The Jazz are looking to stay focused and make up for lost time. Injuries to their star players made them a shadow of the team that appeared a lock for the playoffs coming into the season, but with much of their core healthy again they're already back in the postseason picture. They could also end up being the team San Antonio faces in the first round.

With a need at point guard, the Jazz didn't swing for the fences at the trade deadline like some thought they might. They did however pick up Shelvin Mack, a solid role player who found himself buried in the Atlanta Hawks depth chart. Mack's already been inserted into the starting lineup, and he brings a combination of size and experience the Jazz were lacking at the position. Utah was making do with Rodney Hood and Gordon Hayward, two wings capable of creating and making plays off the dribble, but defenses had begun to sag off former starter Raul Neto a bit too much. Mack's presence and the threat he represents should mean more breathing room for everyone.

More important for Utah is the return of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, who simply change the game on both ends of the floor. Coach Quin Snyder can now bring guys like Trey LylesJeff Withey and Trevor Booker off the bench instead of having to plug them into his starting lineup by necessity. Utah's frontcourt is now not only deeper but more versatile, as well, allowing for Snyder to match up as needed against San Antonio.

This is all to say that this Jazz team isn't the same one the Spurs have defeated by 25-plus points both times. Gobert instantly transforms their defense into a gauntlet, and his presence down low is what made the Jazz such a stingy team in the second half of last year. Paired with the scoring punch they have on the wings (thanks to the development of Hood), Utah's now more of an all-around team that can beat you in multiple ways.

San Antonio's coming off a 108-92 win against the Kings last night, as Kawhi Leonard returned to action after dealing with tightness in his calf. Neither Leonard or Aldridge got into an offensive rhythm in Sacramento, but it didn't matter against one of the league's worst defenses. Tony Parker and the team's supporting cast (including a hot Danny Green) propelled the Spurs to a win, and we should see one or both of the team's All Stars bounce back tonight.

I really like the challenge this stronger Utah team poses to San Antonio, even if it comes on a SEGABABA. Earlier this week I'd circled this game as a scheduled loss, and I won't be surprised if a languid effort results in a double-digit deficit the Spurs struggle to claw back from. But I also have the feeling the Spurs' bench advantage and interior defense will do enough for them to come out of Utah with a W, especially if Kawhi locks down on Hayward once again.

Matchup to watch: LaMarcus Aldridge against Derrick Favors. With Gobert still rounding into form, Favors has been huge for Utah since coming back from injury. He still lacks offensive polish, but his combination of length and strength make him a handful for most bigs. Aldridge allows SA to pull Favors out and put extra pressure on Gobert to make plays around the basket.

@

San Antonio Spurs

(Record: 48-9)

Utah Jazz

(Record: 28-28)

February 25, 2016

EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, UT

9:30 PM CDT

TV: FSSW

Starters

Tony Parker

PG

Shelvin Mack

Danny Green

SG

Rodney Hood

Kawhi Leonard

SF

Gordon Hayward

LaMarcus Aldridge

PF

Derrick Favors

Tim Duncan

C

Rudy Gobert

Game prediction: Spurs by 5.

For the Jazz fans' perspective, visit SLC Dunk.

As always Tony must dominate Fisher.