The Sixers and Jazz meet Monday night with both teams sitting in 9th place in their respective conferences. Showing the disparity between the East and West though, the Jazz are still fighting for their playoff lives, whereas the Sixers knew weeks ago they would be golfing (or bowling) come springtime. Utah is in a freefall of late, having lost 4 straight and 8 of their last 10 to drop 2 games behind the Lakers for the 8th and final playoff spot. The Jazz lost a huge game yesterday on the road to the Mavericks, allowing Dallas to pull even with them for 9th place. Utah has to view this game as a must-win against a Sixers team playing out the string.
The Sixers defeated the Jazz at home, 99-93, way back in November. Jrue Holiday had a big performance in that contest with a game-high 26 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists. Poor guard play has long been the weakness for the Jazz as they feature one of the deepest front line rotations in the league with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap starting, with youngsters Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter coming off the bench. The Jazz opted not to trade one of their veteran big men for a young piece or two at the trade deadline, deciding to keep this group together for a run at an early-round playoff exit. It seemed like the team would have been well-served acquiring a back court prospect or an additional draft pick, while giving more playing time to Favors and Kanter, who have played well with the minutes they’ve been given.
On the court, the Jazz are 6th best in the NBA on the offensive glass, grabbing 29.4 of available offensive rebounds. Each of their four big men average at least 2.0 offensive boards per game; the Sixers will have to make a concerted effort in that area with Thad Young being undersized against all but Millsap, or if they opt to go small with Dorell Wright at the four. Among the perimeter players, Gordon Hayward, Mo Williams, and Randy Foye are all slightly above-average from behind the arc. However, none of them are shot creators as the Jazz run their offense through the post. The Sixers just need not avoid straying too far from those guys in their defensive rotations. Finally, when the Sixers are on offense, they need to go at Utah, as the Jazz have the 5th-highest foul rate in the league, with Favors being the biggest culprit. The Jazz perimeter players are not defensive stoppers and other than Favors, there’s not a big shot-blocking presence on the interior.
Keys to the Game:
- Jrue Holiday needs to have another big game for the Sixers to complete the season sweep against the Jazz. Mo Williams is undersized and an undiscipled defender who Holiday should tear apart on the offensive end. He should be able to get into the lane at will and score efficiently to carry the Sixers’ attack.
- Someone needs to step up off the bench in the second game of a back-to-back. All of the starters played 30+ minutes last night against Sacramento and Doug Collins will likely stretch his rotation out tonight. If Dorell Wright or Lavoy Allen could score over 20 points two games in a row, the Sixers should remain within striking distance.
Despite the win last night against the lowly Kings, the Sixers’ road woes are no secret by now, and Utah plays much better at home, where they have a 24-9 record. Teams with dominant size often give Philadelphia fits on the interior and I expect tonight to be no different. Given the poor form of late from the Jazz and the slight turnaround from the Sixers the last couple weeks, the game should be a close one. However, Utah should prevail in the end.