Playoff Push Starts in the Windy City

Photo: Gary Dineen NBAE/Getty ImagesPhoto: Gary Dineen NBAE/Getty Images

Utah Jazz fans innately have thoughts that come to mind when thinking about the Chicago Bulls and the crushing defeats at the hands of His Airness.  The days of Shandon Anderson vs Ron Harper are over, but winning in Chicago is still a tough task for any team. As the Jazz prepare to play the Bulls tonight, one can only hope that the team can put their recent struggles behind them and start the playoff push.

Tonight will be the 90th regular season game between the two teams, with the Bulls leading the series 46-43; as the injury-riddled Jazz will try to end their two-game losing streak against Carlos Boozer and Co. With a few heart-breaking losses in the past three days, the Jazz are entering the must win territory as the Lakers steadily start to play like a team that actually has four future Hall-of-Famers. When I use the term injury-riddled, it is pointing to one player and one player only – Al Jefferson.  Missing the best percentage-shooting player in the NBA during the last five minutes of games most certainly impacted the two close losses to Milwaukee and Cleveland.

Big Al put on a nationally televised clinic on his offensive arsenal when Chicago visited Salt Lake City in early February.  If not for Carlos Boozer’s crafty left-handed layups late in the game and Nate Robinson’s annoyingly efficient game, the Jazz would have been carried to victory on Al’s shoulders.

Photo: Gary Dineen NBAE/Getty Images

Photo: Gary Dineen NBAE/Getty Images

It’s nice to have Mo Williams back.  It’s nice to see Enes Kanter playing like a #3 overall pick. It’s nice to see DeMarre Carroll in the starting lineup.  Reports of Big Al playing against Chicago is the real key to end this mini-streak of last-second losses.

Losing five of the last six games couldn’t come at a worse time for the Jazz, because as we all know, small market teams not just want to make the playoffs, but need to make the playoffs. It’s been proven that the Jazz are capable of beating top-tier teams.  Just look at the stretch of games before the All-Star break.  So, as the team that is finally at full strength (Mo) enters into the last quarter of the season they’ll need to return to to that few week stretch. The New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies all show up two more times before the season ends.  With the Nuggets, Nets, Spurs and Rockets also on the horizon, the Jazz need to try and regain some rhythm against the defense of Tom Thibodeau and his Bulls.

Slow-paced and defensive is one way to describe the style of the Derrick Rose-less Bulls. Or boring. Either way. The Jazz will have to find a way to score in transition and try to take the stingy Bulls defense out of the picture. Mo Williams’ presence was obviously positive against Cleveland, and it seems he will only get stronger as his thumb and conditioning get back into game shape.  While his poor shooting was expected, his leadership is the thing that will be most essential.

Joakim Noah is playing like the All-Star that he is and will give the Jazz bigs trouble down low.  The key for the Jazz to win in Chicago for the first time in three years is to win the battle in the paint and limit the Bulls’ easy transition points.  If the Jazz can do those two things then look for a rare victory in the Windy City.

The necessity of the playoffs begins tonight in Chicago.  A quest that won’t be getting any easier.

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