The improved Utah Jazz have built up a full head of steam to take into Thursday’s battle with the Golden State Warriors. The game could be a preview of an interesting playoff series.
The Utah Jazz are red hot at the moment, coming off a narrow victory against the Phoenix Suns to cap off a fortnight that contained seven wins and just one loss. Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors are in good shape and leading the NBA with an 18-3 record. The frontrunners in the packed Western Conference have also won 14 of their last 15 games.
It goes without saying that the Warriors are destined to clinch the top spot in the standings when the 82 game season comes to a close, so how do they meet the Jazz?
It seems that after the Dubs, Spurs, and Clippers, the Western Conference is in a complete frenzy from places four-through-eight. Well it’s just the beginning; I expect the fourth and seventh seeds out West to be separated by less that five games when all is said and done.
The Houston Rockets are the team that is likely to drop off the pack by a few games after their dream schedule ends in early January. Since the Jazz claiming the eighth seed is extremely unlikely, the two could still possibly meet in the Western Conference semifinals if the Jazz grab the fourth or fifth seed and prevail in the first round. Of all the dangerous teams in the Wild West that the Warriors could run into early in the playoffs, I can assure you the Jazz will be the last team Golden State would want to face.
The Warriors’ biggest strength is obviously their three-point shooting, but that’s exactly how the Jazz will guard them. With Rudy Gobert patrolling the paint, Utah can then force Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant off the three-point line and make them shoot within the vicinity of the Stifle Tower.
Dec 6, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) dunks on a breakaway in the fourth quarter against the Phoenix Suns at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Utah Jazz defeated the Phoenix Suns 112-105. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Gordon Hayward is always going to score his fair share of points, George Hill is a consistent scorer and Gobert will get his points off lobs and put-backs. For the Jazz to compete with the Warriors over the course of seven games, Rodney Hood will need to be on a tear with his jumper. When he is shooting well, he becomes unguardable for any player or team in the NBA.
Looking now at the lone regular season battle between the two in Salt Lake City, the Jazz will go in without Derrick Favors (knee) and Alec Burks (ankle). Hill (toe) is listed as ‘questionable’ but an early return seems unlikely after being listed as ‘out’ days in advance in Utah’s last three outings. Hood (hamstring) is also ‘questionable’ after being kept out during the second half of Tuesday’s game against the Suns with hamstring soreness.
The Warriors, meanwhile, continue to be one of the healthiest teams in the NBA and have no listed injuries at this time. However, they will be on the second day of a back-to-back after playing the Clippers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. So Jazz fans will be praying for overtime or maybe even for a Draymond Green suspension (which should be his third of the season after kicking both James Harden and Marquese Chriss after the whistle).
Utah’s upcoming game with the Warriors will be a great one throughout and a preview for what I think could be a Western Conference semifinals matchup. Despite being on the second day of a tough back-to-back, I am predicting the Warriors to come away with a well-earned victory purely because the Jazz have recently allowed the Nuggets and Suns back within games that should have been major blowouts, and offense will be hard to come by without three of their best five scorers.