Everything’s Bigger in Texas…even road trips.
Coming off Monday’s disastrous loss to the Knicks, who played without Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire, the Jazz are reeling. They are losers of seven of their last ten and haven’t won on the road since before the All-Star break. They were unable to take advantage of the Lakers getting blown out by Phoenix Monday night and are currently on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
It was one of the worst losses of the season; playing a Knick team that was on their fifth game of a west-coast trip and on the second day of a back-to-back. On the previous four games of their road trip the Knicks had lost each game by an average of 20 points.
The loss Monday night was unacceptable and makes a tough road to the playoffs even more difficult for the Jazz.
The three-game Texas road trip starting Wednesday night in Houston now has enormous implications on the rest of this season. The Jazz are set to play the Rockets, Spurs and Mavericks and will have a pretty good idea whether or not this team is going to the playoffs when the final horn sounds Sunday night in Dallas. Here is a preview of the three games and some things the Jazz need to do to get some much needed W’s.
HOUSTON ROCKETS – Wednesday
The Rockets lead the season series two games to one. Utah won the first game way back in November in Salt Lake with Houston taking the last two, one in Houston and then a 45 point drubbing of the Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena.
The Jazz have done a good job in containing James Harden holding him to only 16 points per game, that is helped by the first game of the series when Harden only scored six points in 17 minutes in a game he left early with a fever.
The Rockets lead the NBA in pace of play and are second in points per game. They are a run-and-gun team that loves to get up and down and get shots up. Jeremy Lin and Harden are two of the best pick and roll players in the NBA. The Jazz often struggle with that so look for the Rockets to do it over and over again.
The Rockets lead the league in turnovers per game, some of which can be attributed to the fast pace they play; the Jazz need to force a lot of turnovers and take advantage of them. The Rockets also give up the second most points per game in the league.
Shut down the supporting cast
Harden is going to get his; he is fifth in the league scoring 26.3 points per game. It’s the rest of the guys you can’t let go off and beat you. Chandler Parsons is having a good year averaging 15 points and five boards every night. Omer Asik has been solid averaging a double-double with ten points and almost 12 rebounds every night and you can’t forget Lin-sanity! Lin hasn’t quite lived up to the big contract he signed this off-season but he is averaging a solid 13 points and seven assists. If the Jazz can force these three to have bad nights then they have a good chance of getting a huge win on the road.
Convert turnovers to points
The Rockets are going to turn the ball over; with the fast and wide-open style of basketball they play it is inevitable. The Jazz will need to take advantage and turn those turnovers into easy baskets to get a win. If the Jazz don’t make the Rockets pay, it could be a long night.
Slow the game down
Utah doesn’t have the athletes to run up and down the court with the Rockets. Mo Williams usually does a pretty good job of pushing the pace but it will be difficult for the Jazz to beat the Rockets at their own game. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap should be able to go to work down low, slow the game down and get the Jazz some easy buckets.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS – Friday
The season series between these two is tied at one win apiece; the Spurs beat the Jazz in San Antonio by ten and the Jazz beat the Spurs by three in Salt lake with a Mo Williams buzzer-beater in one of the most memorable games of the season.
The Spurs are doing what they do best this season; winning. They own the second best record in the NBA and are ready to get the playoffs started.
They are a solid all-around, as we have come to expect from a Greg Popovich coached team. They come in scoring almost 105 points per game, good enough for fourth in the NBA, while only giving up 96 to their opponents.
Tony Parker has been out for a couple weeks and it is questionable if he will be back in time for Friday’s game but the Spurs haven’t skipped a beat going 7-3 in their last ten games.
San Antonio is number one in the league in assists per game. Their offense is designed for ball movement and to get shots for multiple players. They are in the middle of the pack league-wide in turnovers per game. If the Jazz can force the Spurs to turn the ball over they have the chance to get themselves some easy buckets; something they will need to pull off the upset.
I know this seems like an obvious and fundamental part of basketball but the Jazz will need to shoot the ball very well to beat the Spurs in San Antonio. The Spurs don’t give teams a lot of open looks so it is crucial the Jazz offense runs smoothly and when Gordon Hayward, Mo Williams or Alec Burks get the opportunity to knock down a jumper they do it.
DALLAS MAVERICKS – Sunday
It’s been an interesting season for the Mavericks; they have had bad stretches of basketball but also some pretty good stretches as well. They are currently tenth in the west, two full games behind the Jazz and three behind the Lakers for the final playoff spot in the west. They also have some itchy faces right now; the team made a pact not to shave until they reached .500; Chris Kaman and Dirk are looking downright scary right now.
The Mavs do a good job of scoring the ball at 101 points per game but they give up 102, which is 27th in the NBA.
They are similar to the Jazz in the fact they are collection of guys on one or two year deals. Rick Carlisle has done a pretty good job of keeping these guys close and on the same page but as we are seeing with the Jazz, it sometimes is difficult to do when guys know there is going to be so much turnover the following season.
Chase shooters off the three-point line
The Mavericks are sixth in the NBA shooting 38% from beyond the arc; Dirk Nowitzki, OJ Mayo and Vince Carter all shoot above 40% from deep. Utah needs to make sure they don’t let those three spot up and get open looks. If Utah’s defenders can get them to put the ball on the floor the Jazz will be able to get Dallas out of their shooting rhythm and have a shot at beating Dallas at the end of the road trip.
Make Dirk defend
Utah can’t have another no-show from Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. They need to go at Dirk; that goes for Kanter and Favors too when they have the opportunity. If Dirk is allowed to slack on defense he will light the Jazz up on offense. He would love nothing more than to just body up Al with the help of a double-team and not work too hard and then to go down on offense, full of energy and shoot away; Utah can’t allow that to happen if they want to get the win.
The Jazz are going to have to play a lot better than they have as of late in order for this to be a successful trip in the Lone Star State. Going 3-0 would be huge for playoff hopes but even 2-1 would be considered successful. If they come back at 1-2 or heaven forbid 0-3 it just might be the nail in the coffin for this up and down season.