Deron Williams

The season has just begun, but the clock’s already ticking for the Utah Jazz

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The Utah Jazz are struggling. Most thought they would. They’re incorporating all kinds of new pieces (the most notable of which is star big man Al Jefferson), missing a pretty prominent rotation player due to injury, and trying to make it all work in one of the league’s more deliberate and complicated offenses. We knew it was going to take time before Jefferson, Gordon Hayward and company were fully comfortable running Utah’s sets, but one can’t help but wonder how much time the Jazz actually have.

It’s a long, long season. Utah is only two games in. But the playoff race in the West is going to be pretty competitive, and Utah will have to become a vastly more effective team if they’re going to snag a spot in the post-season. Portland, Oklahoma City, Dallas, San Antonio, and Los Angeles all seem to be going about business as usual. New Orleans bested a tough Milwaukee Bucks squad for their first win. Denver completely destroyed Utah in their season opener. Even the flawed neo-Suns were able to stick it to the Jazz last night, a sign of just how far Utah has to climb to even be in the playoff hunt. Starting the season poorly isn’t damning, but considering all that the Jazz will have to overcome this season, they need to turn things around fairly quickly.

They’ll need to score much more than 93.7 points scored per 100 possessions. They’ll need to allow far fewer than 113.2 points per 100 possessions. They’ll need to get better and they need to do it on the rest of the league’s time, because some of those other Western Conference challengers may not be willing to wait around.

The Rockets and Grizzlies have also started their seasons with losses, but both are fully capable of competing for a playoff spot. And what if the Warriors or Kings are able to become legitimate dark horse contenders for a low playoff seed? There are still so many unknowns, but one thing we know for sure: there are too many quality teams in the West for the Jazz to tread water and hope to make it through April. They have talent. They have one of the best coaches in the game. But they face a crueler timeline than any of the other quasi-elite teams in the conference. The rest of the bunch has some assembly required, but Utah is starting from scratch. Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, and Paul Millsap are still around, but replacing Carlos Boozer and introducing a very talented but very different alternative, all while acclimating another starter and a number of role players to the system, is pretty tough.

It may seem like Utah has plenty of time, but they’re already on the clock. Losses like these are excusable now, but the season will quickly transition into a less forgiving phase. Games and days and weeks will roll, and should the Jazz remain the team we’ve seen in their first two games — awkward on offense, ineffective on defense — then a late-season surge may not be enough to save their playoff chance.

Joel Embiid: “I feel 100 percent”

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 30: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on prior to the game against the Utah Jazz on October 30, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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After missing two entire seasons, all signs are pointing to 2014 No. 3 overall pick Joel Embiid finally taking the court this season. Last week, Sixers coach Brett Brown said that Embiid has looked great in his workouts and is on track to play in the preseason, and Embiid himself echoed that sentiment over the weekend. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Marc Narducci that he feels “100 percent.”

There’s always a possibility and fear that Embiid’s recurring foot problems will come back, but for now, all indications are that he’s feeling good and will be able to contribute this season, which should make Sixers fans excited.

Evan Fournier pokes fun at his ‘NBA 2K’ likeness

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 07:  Evan Fournier #10 of the Orlando Magic dribbles the ball against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 7, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The release of NBA 2K17, the latest edition of the popular 2K video-game series, is less than a month away. Players are starting to get their likenesses in the game, as well as their player ratings, and tweet them out. Magic forward Evan Fournier wasn’t too happy with the way his came out.

Fournier’s countryman Rudy Gobert got in on the fun, too, changing his Twitter avatar to Fournier’s screenshot and encouraging others to do the same. He even created a hashtag for it.

At least they’re having fun with it.

Report: Sixers expected to waive Tibor Pleiss after trade with Jazz

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 30: Tibor Pleiss #21 of the Utah Jazz controls the ball in the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on October 30, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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On Friday, the Jazz traded German center Tibor Pleiss to the Sixers along with two second-round picks for Kendall Marshall. The big draw of the trade for Philly was the picks, and Pleiss is not expected to stay with the Sixers, according to Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia’s Jessica Camerato.

Pleiss had a forgettable season with Utah, and the Sixers have a glut of bigs including Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. It would have been virtually impossible for Pleiss to crack the rotation, and it’s unlikely another team picks up his contract, which has $3 million guaranteed this season.

Jordan releases new Russell Westbrook ad, may include a shot at Kevin Durant

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (L) and Russell Westbrook #0 look on during a press conference after the Golden State Warriors defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 108-101 in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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As a Jordan Brand athlete, Russell Westbrook is under the same Nike umbrella as former teammate Kevin Durant. But his latest Jordan spot, released Friday, has a very pointed tagline: “Some run, some make runways.”

Given the circumstances, it’s hard to interpret that as anything other than a reference to Durant signing with the Warriors and Westbrook signing an extension with the Thunder.