This postseason, there are two clear-cut favorites to reach the NBA Finals — the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors.
All season, it has seemed inevitable that Warriors-Cavs III will tip off on June 1, and even with some ups-and-downs this regular season, nothing has changed in that regard.
But before either team can play that Finals rubber match, they'll have to get through their respective conference playoffs, and there are six teams — three from each conference — that could make that journey difficult.
The Utah Jazz are one of those teams for the Warriors, and here are three reasons they could take down Golden State this postseason:
Kyle TeradaKyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Rudy Gobert is a big, big problem
We all know how good Rudy Gobert is on the defensive end of the court — he's a top candidate for Defensive Player of the Year for a reason — and that's a major issue for the Warriors should they face the Jazz in the second round of this year's postseason.
But an equally difficult problem is how the Warriors will stop him on offense.
First, the defense: Gobert has improved dramatically in his ability to play the pick-and-roll this season. You used to be able to take him off the court with a stretch-five center running a 1-5 pick-and-pop, taking him out of the lane and putting him in a vulnerable spot — but his improved perimeter and mid-range defense allows him to stay on the court against smallball lineups. So playing Draymond Green or even Kevin Durant as a center isn't going to make Gobert unplayable on defense.
In fact, you're probably playing into the Jazz's hands by doing that. Gobert's improvement in the pick-and-roll on the offensive end means that you can't put a smallball center on him and expect to not give up two points on the lob. Yes, even Draymond Green is vulnerable.
To counter Gobert, you need to have a player like Gobert — a rim-protecting, lob-catching center who can play from the rim to the 3-point line on both ends of the court. There aren't many of them in the league. Zaza Pachulia isn't one. David West really isn't one either. And can the Warriors afford to play Green at center for 30 minutes a game and risk foul trouble all contest?
The Warriors might have the right kind of center in Javale McGee, but counting on Javale McGee to provide quality minutes is not a viable game plan.
Until proven otherwise, the Warriors don't have an answer for the Jazz big man.
Jeffrey SwingerJeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
George Hill is deadly off the ball
Stephen Curry is a two-time MVP winner for a reason, and that reason is not his defense.
Curry isn't unplayable on the defensive end, but there's a reason that Klay Thompson usually checks the point guard of opposing teams.
But the Jazz often run their offense through wings, leaving point guard George Hill to do what he does best — play off the ball.
Hill is as deft as Curry in running off off-ball picks and finding space in a defense. And when he gets the ball, he has an effective field goal percentage of 60 percent when he doesn't take a dribble.
The Warriors will have to be creative with their defensive matchups in a series against the Jazz. With Boris Diaw and Joe Ingles often running the offense off the elbow and Gordon Hayward demanding a top defender, it's clear that Thompson won't be guarding Hill. The Warriors might be content with Curry defending Hill the entire series, lest the Jazz's other ball handlers (including Hayward) — who more often than not play with George — bully Curry with their size.
There's nowhere for Curry to hide on defense with this Jazz offense, and when you factor that Hill has hit 71 percent of his 3-pointers against the Warriors over the last three years, that could prove to be a massive predicament.
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The Jazz are deep
The Warriors used to be the deepest team in the NBA. When they signed Kevin Durant, they had to sacrifice that title — it was more than a fair trade.
Utah now holds the claim.
With Dante Exum, Alec Burks, Joe Johnson, Trey Lyles, Rodney Hood, Joel Bolomboy and Boris Diaw coming off the bench, the Jazz never really stop coming at you. They can score in bunches and they don't drop off much from their top five unit.
Bolomboy, at 6-foot-9, is poised to break out this postseason as a center. Exum is a long, strong defender whose offensive game shows flashes. And Joe Johnson has never shot better from behind the arc in his career and can be a deadly stretch-four.
If the Jazz's starting lineup can stick with Golden State's, Utah's second line has the ability to win games. And when you factor in Utah's significant home-court advantage, that's nothing to overlook.