The Jazz (12-25), as much as any other team, has changed drastically over the last three seasons. Losing a coach that had led the team for over 1,800 games and a point guard, who at the time, was one of the best players at his position in the NBA. One of the less significant changes during this stretch might have been allowing C.J. Miles to leave in free agency. Miles left averaging 15.7 points and 4.1 rebounds per 36 minutes on the court.
Miles made noise around the league on Tuesday when he made eight three-pointers in the first half of Cleveland’s win over the 76ers. It was the second time in as many years that Miles had eight or more three’s in a game for the Cavs.
“That’s true to who he is. When he gets going, there’s not a three-pointer he doesn’t think he can make, Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin said on Thursday. “Ya love seeing the guys you had relationships with do well.”
On Friday, the youngest player ever to suit up for the Jazz will be back in EnergySolutions Arena. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers (12-23), are trying to pull out of a massive tail spin. Having lost 10 of their last 13 games, within the last week the Cavs made one of the biggest trades this
season when they dumped Andrew Bynum and a potential first-round draft pick to the Chicago Bulls for Luol Deng.
Deng is a solid pro and has been a borderline All-Star for his entire career. He will instantly help this struggling Cavs team and paired with Kyrie Irving will give them a very potent one-two punch.
Miles’ numbers have jumped since leaving Utah scoring an extra 3.2 points per 36 minutes on the court and shooting 38.7 percent from long range, a significant jump from his Utah average of 32.9. While Miles has struggled with consistency throughout his career, the bigger question for Friday is about Deng’s ability to contribute immediately.
“It’s going to be interesting when you add a guy like Deng with the talent that they have and the enthusiasm.” Corbin said trying to anticipate how the Bulls will do with Deng on the floor for the first time. “It could go either way… so we have to come out and be ready to compete against these guys at a high level, especially at the beginning of the game.”
Jazz vet Marvin Williams acknowledged how hard it can be to find chemistry with a team right away but said Deng has a lot to offer the Cavs.
“He brings a lot of scoring to that team. He brings a lot of energy to the defensive end of that team,” Williams said. “He’ll definitely be a great addition for those guys.” While they work Deng into the rotation, The Cavs are also working their most prized possession, point guard Kyrie Irving back into the starting lineup. He had missed three games with a bruised knee prior to starting and playing 30 minutes during Tuesday’s win.
Irving gives Jazz rookie Trey Burke another chance to go against one of the leagues elite guards. Burke said the key for his success so far has been studying his opponents before the game, and making the right read on the court. Unwilling to use his limited experience as an excuse for a dip in scoring recently, Burke said it has more to do with building chemistry with his teammates and finding his shot.
While the point guard position will be a match-up well worth watching, the obvious x-factor will be Deng. If he can contribute immediately, Cleveland might get the boost they’re looking for and become a realistic threat to make the playoffs. Right now they sit just two games out of the Eastern Conference tournament despite their 34.3 winning percent.
An example of the disparity in the two conferences this season is that the jazz 32.4 winning percentage leaves them 8.5 games out of the playoff picture in the West. The Jazz are 5-7 against the East this season including a four game East Coast trip early in the year that the team made without Burke and returned home winless.
Even as the season has turned around in recent weeks, Corbin knows his team can’t get complacent heading into Friday’s game.
“We have to come out aggressive right from the beginning of the game. We can’t wait to get going. This is going to be a good opponent,” Corbin said. “They have some changes on their roster and their record might not be one of the best in the league but they’re playing hard. They’re going to be excited so we’ve got to meet that level of intensity.”
The game also gives Gordon Hayward an opportunity to find his stride by putting a fourth consecutive game together shooting at or better than 50 percent. It would be the first time Hayward has done so this season. The game will tip-off at 7:00 p.m.
Skyler Hardman, a Utah native and life long Jazz fan, dreamed of covering the team at an age when most of his peers were still hoping to play in the NBA. Before the Jazz, he spent time covering Snow College and BYU for various outlets. You can find him on Twitter @Skydiz