Feb 4, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder directs his team in the first quarter against the Charlotte Hornets at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
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After a light two-game slate last week, the Utah Jazz will be in for a much greater challenge as they face four tough opponents in the sixteenth week of NBA action.
The Utah Jazz went undefeated last week as they finished up their four-game home stand with just two games in seven days. With plenty of days of rest and only a two-game slate, the Jazz were able to take care of business and log wins against both the Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Hornets.
Utah’s wins and the recent Clippers losses helped propel the Jazz up to the fourth seed in the Western Conference where they hold a one-game lead over LA. With that being the case, this upcoming sixteenth week of NBA action holds a great deal of importance if the Jazz hope to maintain that spot.
They’ll head out on a three-game road trip that begins on Monday and will face four challenging but definitely beatable teams. If they hope to keep a solid hold of fourth place while creating some space between them and the Clippers and allowing themselves some breathing room against tougher opponents, this is the kind of week where Utah needs to simply take care of business.
They’ll start out against the Atlanta Hawks tonight who are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference and have had their share of ups and downs of late as they’ve logged a 6-4 record over their last ten games.
From there, they’ll have a back-to-back on Wednesday and Thursday as they visit two Western Conference foes in the New Orleans Pelicans and Dallas Mavericks who, despite getting off to atrocious starts, have been playing much better of late.
The Mavericks have moved all the way up to tenth in the conference after winning six of their last seven games and are starting to look more like the gutsy, “find-a-way-to-win” team that has become expected of them over recent years.
And New Orleans, despite losing four straight, recently went on a solid run that saw them defeat both the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs.
Finally, Utah will end the week hosting the red-hot Boston Celtics who have won seven straight and find themselves just two games behind Cleveland for the top spot in the East.
So as you can see, the Jazz will have their work cut out for them this week as they look to make their stay at the fourth seed a permanent one. This is one of those hard to predict weeks where depending on which Utah team shows up the team could go 4-0 just about as easily as they could go 0-4.
But Utah has played well against middle-of-the-pack teams like the Hawks, Mavericks and Pelicans and will get to tackle the Celtics within the friendly confines of Vivint Smart Home Arena, so hopefully they’ll lean more towards the former record rather than the latter.
Nov 25, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz guard George Hill (3) and forward Trey Lyles (41) react during the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Jazz won 95-68. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
2/6 Utah at Atlanta
5:30 pm MT – Root Sports/League Pass
Opponent record: 30-21
Season series: Jazz lead 1-0
The last time the Jazz and the Hawks played, Utah was coming into the game losing four of their last five in disappointing fashion and their fate against a then rising Atlanta team was quite uncertain. Nevertheless, the Jazz came out unbelievably hot and ran the Hawks out of the building with an incredible 95-68 win.
The Hawks went on quite a slump around that time, but have since bounced back in impressive fashion to find themselves in possession of fifth place in the East and just a half-game behind the free-falling Raptors for the fourth spot.
Thus as the Jazz will look to defend the fourth seed in the West, the Hawks will have plenty of incentive to try to surge their way up the standings and claim that same positioning in the East. And given that this game will be on Atlanta’s home court, I expect a much tougher game this time around.
All-Star Paul Millsap has continually played well for this team and Dennis Schroder has been surprisingly productive as he is now the team’s second-leading scorer at 17.2 points per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the field.
The Hawks also have a lot of talent throughout their second unit so there should be some tightly contested match-ups across the board.
Nevertheless, while Atlanta’s record isn’t much worse than Utah’s, they’ve still had their fair share of ups and downs this season and aren’t the kind of team that is constructed to give the Jazz a lot of fits. As long as they can keep Millsap in check and prevent Dwight Howard from having one of his rare dominant games (which shouldn’t be too hard with Rudy Gobert lurking in the paint), this is a game that I fully expect the Jazz to win.
It will be a hard-fought bout against a Hawks team that is undoubtedly solid, but given Utah’s ability to close games this season and the confidence they should have from the prior blowout win over Atlanta, I’m projecting a narrow win for the Jazz that will come in the final period of play.
Feb 10, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) drives past Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) during the first quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
2/8 Utah at New Orleans
6:00 pm MT – Root Sports/League Pass
Opponent record: 19-32
Season series: Tied 0-0
Strangely enough, Wednesday’s contest will be Utah’s first meeting against the New Orleans Pelicans during the 2016-17 season, with all three of their meetings coming in the latter part of the season. From there, the only team the Jazz will have not yet faced this season will be the Washington Wizards which they’ll first take on after the All-Star break.
The Pelicans have been a strange team this year as more often than not they’ve struggled, but as I mentioned earlier they’ve also been able to knock off some of the best teams in the league.
In some ways, they are a worse version of the Oklahoma City Thunder in that the team depends so much on one player because it doesn’t have a ton of talent or depth in its remaining teammates. And while New Orleans’ inferior role players have largely made them worse than OKC, fortunately for the Pelicans, that one guy that they rely on is Anthony Davis who has solidified himself as one of the best big men in the league.
He’s averaging a staunch 27.8 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks this season all while posting an impressive 50.2 percent shooting clip from the field. There’s no doubting that when Davis is on his game, his dominance alone can be enough to make the Pelicans a threat and lead them to victories over any team in the league.
Nevertheless, it would be pretty hard to ask him to do much more than what he’s done this year and more often than not, even Davis hasn’t been able to help elevate this team to new heights single-handedly. He’s the classic example of a great player on a bad team and their record is proof of how rough this season has been for them.
However, while typically Derrick Favors has done a commendable job matching up against Anthony Davis, Utah’s power forward has become significantly less than reliable of late and may very well not be able to give the Jazz the much-needed edge that they’ve come to expect.
Nevertheless, given New Orleans’ lack of depth and overall struggles this year, I fully expect the Jazz to be able to take care of business in this one and come away with a solid win.
With all the bodies that Utah can throw at Davis along with several favorable match-ups across the rest of their roster, barring an unforeseen outrageous performance from the Pelicans star the Jazz should have more than enough weapons to over come a lackluster New Orleans team.
Jan 20, 2017; Dallas, TX, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) battles for the ball with Dallas Mavericks center Salah Mejri (50) and guard Deron Williams (8) during the second quarter at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
2/9 Utah at Dallas
6:30 pm MT – Root Sports/League Pass
Opponent record: 20-30
Season series: Jazz lead 3-0
Despite trailing the season series 3-0, the Dallas Mavericks have given the Jazz quite a bit of trouble this season. The Jazz were only able to win the second contest thanks to a late game-winning three from Rodney Hood and the most recent victory went into overtime after Utah allowed the Mavs to get back into the game in the fourth quarter.
And despite one of the worst starts in the league, the Mavericks have since bounced back in a big way and find themselves realistically within striking distance of a playoff spot.
Harrison Barnes has continually been their best player, but Dallas boasts a slew of talented vets such as Deron Williams, Dirk Nowitzki and Wesley Matthews who are all starting to get things turned around enough to right the ship.
Not to mention, they just signed former free agent Yogi Ferrell to a two-year agreement after he played incredibly well for the Mavs on a 10-day contract. Most recently he lit up the Portland Trail Blazers for 32 points that included 9 made threes out of 11 attempts and essentially solidified his spot on this Dallas team.
It’s been not only of the greatest feel-good stories of the year as the undrafted rookie has found a way to rise through the ranks, but it’s also been solid from a basketball standpoint. The Mavs are undefeated in the four games Ferrell has played and although it’s in a ridiculously small sample size, Yogi’s four solid performances have bolstered him all the way up to become Dallas’ second leading scorer at 17.8 points per game in a Mavericks uniform.
Therefore, with Dallas playing their best basketball of the season, the Jazz having struggled against them all year and the fact that Utah will be coming into this contest on the second night of a back-to-back, I’m actually going to project that a Dallas team that has looked hungrier and hungrier with each passing game is going to find a way to come out on top in this one.
In all reality, the Jazz could very easily be 1-2 against the Mavs this season and are actually very fortunate that such is not the case. With a win, Utah would earn a four-game regular season sweep over Dallas for the first time since the 1997-98 season, but considering all the recent factors I mentioned, I just don’t foresee that happening this year.
This game has all the feeling of a trap game and while the Jazz very well could and perhaps should arise victorious, I’m going to project that the Mavs come away with the win in what should be a closely contested match-up.
Feb 29, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood (5) is fouled by Boston Celtics forward Amir Johnson (right) during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
2/11 Utah vs. Boston
8:00 pm MT – Root Sports/League Pass
Opponent record: 32-18
Season series: Celtics lead 1-0
The Jazz battled hard the first time that they faced the Boston Celtics this season, but unfortunately a bad second quarter doomed them from the onset and Isaiah Thomas and Co. turned out to be far too much to handle as Utah fell 115-104.
Despite converting on a solid 42.3 percent (11-of-26) of their three-point attempts, the Jazz were unable to win the three-point battle as the red-hot Celtics simply couldn’t miss. They ended up finishing the game with 17 made threes on an incredible 54.8 percent shooting clip.
And the Celtics have been playing phenomenally of late as they’ve now won seven straight and find themselves within two games of the top seed in the East. Isaiah Thomas has obviously been an enormous part of that as he has been nearly unstoppable in recent contests.
He’s averaging 29.9 points per game this season, but over the course of their recent seven-game winning streak, he’s putting up a ridiculous 35.3 points and 7.4 assists per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from deep.
Thomas has been especially effective in the fourth quarter meaning that the Jazz can’t simply hope to cruise through the first three quarters of play then step it up in the final period. While that’s been their tendency on multiple occasions this season and it has actually worked quite well, Thomas has been even more clutch than the Jazz so it’s quite likely that such will not be a recipe for success for them.
To be honest, this is the game I’m most nervous about this week for apparent reasons. The Celtics are a great team that have already defeated the Jazz once and boast one of the league’s most prolific scorers in Isaiah Thomas.
Nevertheless, while this match-up could certainly go either way, I’m feeling good about Utah’s chances as they’ll be relatively well-rested, have the benefit of playing in front of their home crowd and will be taking on a Boston team that will be in their third game of a tough four-game road slate.
Therefore, while these two teams are quite similar in their make-ups and philosophies and although the Celtics have a better record than the Jazz, I’m going to go ahead and project that the Jazz will come out fired up and ready for this one and be able to pull out what will likely be their most impressive victory of the week.
So while Week 15 was a relatively light two-game stint which saw the Jazz go undefeated, they’ll face a much tougher challenge this time around with four games in seven days in which they’ll start out with three road contests.
Although I predicted Utah to go 3-1 this week, I could truly see any of these games going either way depending on which Utah Jazz team shows up each night. Yet all of them are quite beatable opponents, so particularly as Utah hopes to maintain hold of fourth place in the West, these are exactly the kinds of games that they have to prove capable of winning.