Wednesday night will see one of the more curious teams in the Association roll into Salt Lake City – the Brooklyn Nets will be facing off against the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz have had their struggles, but the Nets are another story altogether. After managing to land future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to compliment Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, Brooklyn looked poised to hang with the New York Knicks and Miami Heat as contenders for the Eastern Conference Crown.
However, both the Nets and the Knicks quickly showed that they weren’t quite what they were cracked up to be. Brooklyn’s problems came to a head when head coach Jason Kidd fired assistant Lawrence Frank, after clamoring for his presence on the bench before the season even began.
Contrast that situation – one where the coach seemed to be out of control and the players didn’t have a clue what was going on – to where Brooklyn is at now. The Nets, while still a sub-.500 team (24-27), are seventh in the Eastern Conference and look to be making a run. After Kidd floundered out of the gates with his coaching role, he won Coach of the Month in January.
Brooklyn is not the team they were when the Jazz faced them early on in the season, but neither is Utah. Wednesday night should be a fun game, and probably will come down to the wire in order to determine a winner.
The Nets also bring with them former Jazz guard Deron Williams and forward Andrei Kirilenko. Williams’ best moment with Utah was when he helped lead the Jazz to the Western Conference Finals in 2007, only to lose to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs. Kirilenko was an integral part to that playoff run and many others.
So what is there to look forward to in this game, besides the obvious story lines? The match-up between Williams and rookie Trey Burke will be the thing to watch. Burke struggled last week against a much longer Michael Carter-Williams, both offensively and defensively, and now he’s tasked with defending a 6’3” Williams, who outweighs Burke by nearly 20 pounds.
While Williams isn’t producing at the high level Jazz fans saw him at (only 13.3 points and 6.6 assists per game) he’s still capable of having a huge night – especially with the game being played in Salt Lake City.
Burke has the speed advantage of Williams, but he’ll need to keep his head up and not get trapped on the offensive end. Williams is an underrated defender, and he will most likely cause Burke some troubles.
Kirilenko is another player Utah needs to keep an eye on. AK47 made his living in Utah by doing all the little things that don’t show up in stat sheets, but are incredibly crucial to winning games. While he’s not at the level he was in Utah, Kirilenko could be a difference maker for the Nets down the stretch.
For the Jazz, a few more things stick out to me as important for them. They are coming off their first three-game winning streak of the season, and with this being such a young team, watching how they come back to play after the All-Star break will be interesting. Before the break, their offense looked as crisp as it’s been all season – I finally saw the cuts, screens, and solid ball movement that are hallmarks of the flex offense consistently present throughout a game.
The team looked as though they were really starting to come together and play with heart, and for a young team in a season of development, learning teamwork is an attribute that can’t be understated.
Players aside, I’ve also been incredibly impressed with the advancements Corbin has made as a coach. After the Jazz beat the Philadelphia 76ers, I talked with Corbin for a minute about how he felt Burke did defending Carter-Williams. The answer he gave showed that Corbin really has a great grasp on the nitty-gritty details of basketball.
“Well, he learned,” Corbin said, referring to Burke’s defensive performance. “I think he learned, you know, at times when a guy uses length on him, he has to get angles on a bigger guy a little bit to get in front of him. I thought he came off the pick and roll in position, but it’s just a little fight with a longer guy to get back in front of him so we’re not [rotating].”