Utah Jazz at New Orleans Pelicans: Keys to the Game
The Utah Jazz got their three-game road trip started out with a bang as they rolled to a commanding 120-95 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night. Given that Atlanta boasted the best record of the three teams the Jazz will face on the road this week, hopefully that will be a good sign moving forward.
Nevertheless, Wednesday’s stop won’t be an easy one as the Jazz will take on the New Orleans Pelicans for the first time this season. Utah split the season series last year despite posting a better record throughout the 2015-16 campaign, so the Jazz will need to be prepared to take care of business against a team that is capable of logging surprising victories.
The major reason why the Pelicans can be dangerous is because they boast one of the premier NBA stars in the league in power forward/center Anthony Davis.
Davis has been absolutely electrifying this season as he’s averaging 27.9 points, 12.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. He almost single-handedly carries the Pelicans on both ends of the floor game after game.
Thus in essence, Utah’s game plan has to be to cut off the head of the snake by slowing Davis and therefore frustrating the Pelicans team as a whole. Interestingly enough, behind Davis, New Orleans’ second leading scorer is Jrue Holiday who is putting up nearly 12 points per game less than AD and has only appeared in 37 contests. Beyond him, only one other player on the team (Terrence Jones) averages double figures.
This is a tough task, but see if you can figure out who's been best player on New Orleans Pelicans. For help, here's their TPA breakdown: pic.twitter.com/XiW5AgBpcT
— NBA Math (@NBA_Math) January 6, 2017
So it’s quite clear how dramatically the Pelicans sink or swim depending on how Davis is playing. And Utah will have to be well-prepared and not overlook this game because while the Pelicans come into the contest having lost four of their last five, they also recently defeated two elite teams in the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs.
If the Jazz are to take care of business and extend their winning streak to four games, the following are the key areas where they’ll have to thrive against New Orleans.
Key Match-up – Derrick Favors and Anthony Davis
Although Derrick Favors has struggled up to this point this season, he was absolutely phenomenal in Monday’s win over Atlanta. In the big man’s return home, he posted 20 points and 10 rebounds in a game where he finally looked like the Favors of old.
If this is the Favors the Jazz can start to expect night in and night out, it will mean big trouble for the rest of the Western Conference.
Yet the real question will be whether the game against the Hawks was an anomaly for Favors or if it will become the new norm. He will have a superb chance to prove himself once again given that for the second time in a row, the opposing team’s best player is their power forward. However, while Atlanta’s Millsap is a solid player, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis is a completely different animal.
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) February 7, 2017
But in reality, Favors has actually matched up extremely well against Davis in the past. In the three contests against New Orleans in which Derrick played last year, he outscored AD in two of the three.
In the one where Davis logged more points, he finished with 29 points but on a dismal 11-of-31 shooting while Favors had 28 points, just one point less, while converting at a much better 11-of-19 clip. (On a side note, I really miss those high 20-point games from Favors – hopefully they become more common here soon).
Not surprisingly, the Pelicans’ biggest win over the Jazz last season came in the lone match-up in which Favors was sidelined. Davis went off for 36 points in the contest after averaging just 21.6 in the previous three in which Favors was guarding him. 21.6 is of course solid, but nothing compared to what AD is capable of putting up against lesser opponents.
Therefore, it will be critical for the Favors of old to continue his resurgence tomorrow night and outmatch Anthony Davis on both ends of the floor. His doing so was the key in securing two victories over New Orleans last season and it’s extremely likely that such will be the case once again in Wednesday’s bout.
Key Stat – Fast Break Points
Although the New Orleans Pelicans struggle immensely to score as they rank just 21st in the league at 103.3 points per game and 23rd in field goal percentage at 44.3 percent, all while playing at the eighth fastest pace in the league, one area where they have found success is in transition where they’re seventh in the league with 15.2 fast break points per game.
Of course this high figure has a lot to do with the fast pace that they play at, but still it’s important that the Jazz limit the Pelicans in transition and prevent them from building any momentum with easy fast break points.
Considering how much they struggle to score, Utah will easily be able to frustrate them if they force the Pelicans to have to convert against a staunch half-court defensive set each time down the court.
Luckily, Utah has excelled at doing just that all season long. There are several reasons why the Jazz are the league’s best defense in terms of opponent points per game, but one of those is their disciplined ability to get back and defend in transition. Utah is currently tied with the Detroit Pistons for the fewest fast break points allowed per game at 10.7.
If the Jazz can continue that trend by slowing the Pelicans’ pace, controlling them in transition and forcing them into difficult shots, this will more than likely turn out to be a Utah victory.
Key Performer – Gordon Hayward
Gordon Hayward is beyond all doubt confirming that his All-Star selection was no mistake. He has hit the 30-point mark in both of his last two outings and has been phenomenal in every aspect for this rising Jazz squad.
And in tomorrow’s contest against the Pelicans, Hayward should have a great opportunity to showcase his skills once again. He’ll primarily be matched up against Solomon Hill who is a solid defender, but not so daunting as to be able to shut down a red-hot Gordon Hayward.
— Gordon Hayward (@gordonhayward) February 7, 2017
Not to mention, Hill has struggled immensely on offense this year as he’s logging just 6.3 points per game while shooting under 40 percent from the field and under 35 percent from deep. His big payday during the offseason was a bit of a head-scratcher and there’s no doubt that it hasn’t really paid that big of dividends for New Orleans so far.
So given that Hayward shouldn’t have his hands too full on defense with the struggling Hill and considering just how well he’s played of late, I’m confident that Utah’s All-Star will once again be on point tomorrow and help lead his team to a big victory.
Prediction – Jazz 104, Pelicans 92
In my preview piece from earlier in the week, I was originally somewhat hesitant to pin the Jazz at a double-figure victory, but after last night’s astounding victory over the Atlanta Hawks, I’m feeling even more confident that the Jazz will be able to take care of business in similar fashion.
Although I would be in disbelief if the Jazz managed to match their 61.3 percent field goal shooting from the game against Atlanta, they should still be well able to defeat a lackluster New Orleans team, particularly if they benefit from another solid performance from Derrick Favors who historically has played well against Anthony Davis.
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If the Jazz are indeed able to do so, it would be yet another helpful step forward for them. They currently find themselves with a two-game cushion over the Clippers and Grizzlies and just three games behind the Houston Rockets for third place in the West.
With that being the case, every game is becoming that much more significant and it will be vital for the Jazz to come out on top against a very beatable New Orleans team.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com