NBA Season Preview: Utah Jazz

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dwilliams_high5.jpgLast season: 53-29, they won the Northwest division and got four seed in the West. Then Mehmet Okur went down the first game of the playoffs. The Jazz still got by the Nuggets but the Lakers proved to be too much in the second round. (Which is probably exactly what happens if Okur is healthy.)

Head Coach: Jerry Sloan, who I think has been in Utah since the days of Joseph Smith, Jr.

Key Departures: Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Wes Mathews, a sense that things will be the same in Utah.

Key Additions: Al Jefferson, Raja Bell, draft pick Gordon Hayward, a sense of hope that Jefferson can make the Jazz better.

Best case scenario: Another good regular season, the team really gels in the playoffs and they make it all the way to the Western Conference finals. Then Deron Williams is so excited he announces he wants to sign an extension in Utah.

For that to happen: The second part of that is not going to happen, at least not that way. Deron Williams has not gone public the way others have this summer, but both sides can see the next contract looming as a future issue. Williams is under contract this season and next, with a player option for the third year. There are a lot of questions — including what the new CBA looks like — before we talk about Williams leaving Utah, but if he feels the franchise is not committed enough to winning next season could be about where he goes.

As for this season…

Al Jefferson is going to have to fit his game into the Jazz system. Which is no given. Jefferson got 56.8 percent of his shots last season getting the ball in the post, while only about one time a game did he set the pick in the high-screen. Jefferson shot pretty well when he did set those picks, but it is not something Minnesota used him to do often. Jefferson also did not get many points in transition, something Boozer did quite well.

The Jazz get a lot of shots at the rim — they were third in the league in shot attempts at the rim per game last season at 31.3, and they shot a very good 63.5 percent on those — but they do it more through cuts and a motion offense than traditional sets. Like a post up.

Jefferson can certainly play the Utah — err, we mean Sloan — way, but it could be an adjustment. We also have to see how Jefferson fits in once Okur returns. To start the season Jefferson will be more of an Okur replacement than a Boozer replacement.

That will mean more Paul Millsap, which is good for everyone. He’ll need to grab more boards (a strength of Boozer) and continue to score efficiently in more minutes. This is a guy who deserved a big chance and now it is here.

It’s a lot easier for Jefferson to fit in when you have Williams as your point guard. He is the perfect guard for the Jazz system — he can drive the lane, knock down the three, has great floor vision and a nearly 3-1 assist to turnover ratio. Every team game plans to stop Williams, nobody does it. So long as the Jazz have him, they will be good (which brings us back to keeping him).

Hayward has a lot expected of him as rookie, essentially having to step in and take over the Korver designated shooter role. That’s a lot to ask of a kid making a big leap in competition level. Raja Bell will bring the “threes and D” energy off the bench, but at age 34 entering his 11th season in the league you know what you are getting (and you may get a little less of it).

As always, the real X-Factor with the Jazz is Andrei Kirilenko. When he is healthy he is a game changer, a high-flying shot blocker who can drain the three. He stretches the floor, gets to the line and is generally a matchup nightmare for everyone else. But he has missed nearly a quarter of the Jazz’s games the last two seasons ad played in just two playoff games last year. Without him they are much easier to match up with along the front line — and with a big expiring contract ($17.8 million) he could be moved anyway to save money (he was almost part of the Carmelo Anthony four-team deal). Basically, the Jazz can’t count on Kirilenko to be there for them all season.

More likely the Jazz will: Be a little bit worse than they were last year but basically what they have been for a long time — good but not quite good enough. Jefferson will be close to a wash for Boozer, but Bell and Hayward will be a step back from Korver and Mathews. The Jazz will be entertaining, play pretty basketball, but not be contenders. Williams will amaze, Jefferson will be a nice fit, Kirilenko will show flashes but disappoint, Millsap will hustle, the rookies will play like rookies, Bell will be solid but not fantastic.

They will hover around the 50-win mark, maybe win in the first round (depending on matchups) then be out by the second round.

Prediction: 48-34, with a six or seven seed in the West. A tough first round matchup for someone.

As expected, Last Two-Minute report says DeMarcus Cousins didn’t foul Dwyane Wade

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It was an obviously wrong call. NBA officials get far, far more right than wrong over the course of a game — there are not better referees on the planet (watch FIBA ball someday) — but they are human, and they make mistakes. Sometimes pretty egregious ones. And that’s what happened at the end of the Kings/Bulls game.

And that’s what happened near the end of the Kings/Bulls game. Dwyane Wade went up for a layup/dunk he missed, but he landed a bit awkwardly and a referee apparently thought that was because DeMarcus Cousins touched him. The foul was called, even though Cousins did not foul Wade in the least.

The NBA’s Last Two Minute Report agreed:

Cousins (SAC) has his hand on Wade’s (CHI) back while he is airborne, but he does not extend his arm and push him and the contact does not affect the shot attempt.

This was expected. Of course, that does not mean the teams will replay the end of the game, it just means the NBA admits there was a mistake. One that may have changed the outcome of the game. But that original outcome stands.

DeMarcus, how do you feel about that?

Dirk Nowitzki starts Mavericks toward 122-73 rout of Lakers

Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) reacts after scoring during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
Associated Press
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DALLAS (AP) — Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks had something to prove on Sunday following two straight tough losses.

Coming off a three-point effort in an overtime loss on Friday, Nowitzki scored all 13 of his points in the first half and Dallas gave the Los Angeles Lakers the worst loss in their history, 122-73.

“We didn’t show up to play,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “It’s embarrassing for us as a team and for us as an organization. The effort just wasn’t there tonight, which I don’t understand.”

The 49-point defeat just edged Los Angeles’ two previous worst losses at 48 points, most recently 123-75 at Utah on March 28, 2016.

The Mavericks’ winning margin was the third-largest in their history.

It was Dallas’ 13th straight win over the Lakers, who have lost six of their last seven games overall.

After a season-best three-game winning streak, the Mavericks had blown a nine-point halftime lead at Miami on Thursday and lost to Utah on Friday.

Nowitzki was 1 for 13 against the Jazz, including a missed 3-pointer that would have tied the game in overtime.

“I looked sluggish the other night on that back-to-back,” Nowitzki said, “but took a day off yesterday, didn’t do anything. Felt a lot better today.”

The game was close for 10 minutes, with Dallas leading 23-22 before the Mavericks scored the next 15 points to blow it open. Nowitzki had seven points during the run. He played just 20 minutes.

Justin Anderson led seven Mavericks in double figures with a game-high 19 points in 16 minutes, his most playing time since Dec. 27.

The Mavericks led 67-33 at the half and never looked back. They both scored their most points and allowed the fewest in a half and a game this season. The 34-point halftime lead was the third-largest in franchise history.

The Lakers scored their fewest points in a quarter, a first half and a game.

“What’s deflating is that we didn’t guard anybody tonight,” Lakers forward Julius Randle said.

Lou Williams led the Lakers with 15 points.

Dallas’ Seth Curry scored 14 points, including seven straight in the first quarter.

Wesley Matthews and Deron Williams also had 13 points. Devin Harris and Pierre Jackson scored 10 each. Rookies Jackson and Nicolas Brussino (eight points) each reached career highs.

TIP-INS

Lakers: They played without D'Angelo Russell, second on the team at 14.3 points per game. An MRI taken Saturday showed a mildly sprained right MCL and strained right calf. That left the Lakers with rookie Brandon Ingram starting at point guard, and they had a season-low 10 assists. … Larry Nance Jr. (bone bruise, left knee) returned after missing 16 games and scored four points.

Mavericks: Dallas’ record winning margin was 123-70 win at home over the 76ers on Nov. 13, 2014. They beat the Knicks 128-78 in New York on Jan. 24, 2010. … J.J. Barea missed his 26th game this season because of a strained left calf aggravated on Friday. Coach Rick Carlisle said he didn’t expect Barea back until after the All-Star break (Feb. 24 at the earliest). Andrew Bogut (strained right hamstring) could return this week, according to Carlisle.

LENDING A HAND

Mavericks G Deron Williams moved into 20th place in NBA history with 6,715 assists, passing Kevin Johnson. Williams has had at least seven assists in seven straight games; on Sunday, he had eight, seven by halftime.

LONG-RANGE

Nowitzki tied J.R. Smith for 15th place in 3-point field goals by making one for a total of 1,729.

 

Celebrating anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game (VIDEO)

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Sorry to bring this up Raptors fans…

It was 11 years ago today (Sunday) that Kobe Bryant dropped 81 points on the Toronto Raptors in an eventual Lakers win. We thought it would be fun for everyone south of the border to take a walk down memory lane.

Remember, this was not just Kobe padding stats, the Lakers were on a two-game losing streak and were down 14 at the half to the Raptors. This was a Lakers team that started Kwame Brown and Smush Parker — I still say getting this team to the playoffs was one of Phil Jackson’s great coaching jobs — and the Lakers needed Kobe to step up and take over. So he did.

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson each hit seven threes, Warriors pull away from Magic

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson each hit seven 3-pointers and the Golden State Warriors won their seventh straight game, beating the Orlando Magic 118-98 on Sunday.

Tied at the half, the Warriors woke up from West Coast time in the second half to pull away. This was the first Eastern time zone noon tip for them since 1995, when they lost by 34 points in Orlando.

Curry went 7 for 13 on 3s and scored 27 points while Thompson as 7 for 9 from behind the arc and had 21 points. The Warriors shot 19 of 42 overall from 3-point range while the Magic went 7 for 28.

After trailing by 11 in the first half and committing a dozen turnovers, the Warriors went into the break even at 50. Curry hit four 3s and had 14 points in the third quarter as the Warriors outscored the Magic 42-24.

Kevin Durant added 15 points for the Warriors, Zaza Pachulia had 14 and JaVale McGee added 13.

Elfrid Payton led Orlando with 23 points. Nikola Vucevic, Jeff Green, C.J. Watson and Bismack Biyombo each had 12.

TIP-INS

Warriors: Lost at Orlando 132-98 on March 26, 1995, in their previous noon tip in the East. … Coach Steve Kerr decided to rest backup point guard Shaun Livingston.

Magic: D.J. Augustin sprained his right ankle during the second quarter and did not return to the game. … The Magic signed D-League affiliate Erie BayHawks forward Anthony Brown to a 10-day contract Sunday. Brown is averaging 21.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and one steal in 16 games with the BayHawks.