NBA Playoff preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Utah Jazz

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SEASON RECORDS


San Antonio 50-16 (1 seed)
Utah: 36-30 (8 seed)

SEASON SERIES


San Antonio won the season series 3-1 and Utah’s only win was against the Spurs on a night the Big 3 rested. Not exactly an encouraging sign for the Jazz.

KEY INJURIES

San Antonio: The Spurs are (gulp) healthy going into the playoffs.

Utah: Earl Watson is out for the year following knee surgery. Josh Howard is only one game back from a serious knee injury.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

San Antonio: offense 108.5 (1st); defense 100.6 (10th)
Utah: offense 103.7 (15th); defense 103.6 (13th)

THREE KEY SPURS:

Tony Parker: Parker should be able to have his way with the Jazz’ defense. By creating penetration and kicking to the Spurs array of shooters, their offense will hit its high gear and punish the slower rotations for Utah. His work in the pick and roll will be equally important.

DeJuan Blair: Blair has to at least make an impact to offset Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. Tim Duncan will do his part. Blair’s ability to contribute anything at either end will help the Spurs avoid a lengthy fight.

Matt Bonner: Bonner has been an absolute Jazz killer this season and the Jazz are 12 points better than the Spurs with him off the court, 27 points worse with him on. He murdered Utah this year and if he does that again, Utah can’t keep pace offensively.

THREE KEY JAZZ

Paul Millsap:  With Duncan likely on Al Jefferson, it’ll be up to Millsap and his range to keep the Spurs honest and punish them from mid-range. Millsap has to be the star who leads Utah against San Antonio.

Gordon Hayward: Hayward gets to enjoy being the Jazz’ best wing weapon while being matched up against Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson. This is a time for heroes. Jazz fans better hope Hayward is ready to be one.

Alec Burks. The Jazz need someone to step up on the perimeter and hit huge shots. The rookie would be a good candidate. Despite a poor shooting percentage, Burks can light it up.

OUTLOOK

The Spurs are superior in just about every way. There’s just not an area in which the Spurs aren’t the phenomenally better team. That said, Utah’s homecourt should allow them to steal one. On the surface, you’re tempted to say the Jazz remind you of the Grizzlies last year, but the Jazz aren’t nearly as good defensively, and struggle with defending the pick and roll.

Good luck with that, chief. The Spurs are better than last year, the Jazz aren’t as good as Memphis. No upsets here, kids. Utah’s awesome home court avoids the sweep.

PREDICTION

San Antonio in a “Gentleman’s Sweep,” 4-1

Rumor: Blake Griffin increasingly believed to be open to leaving Clippers in free agency

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The Clippers were rumored to have already verbally agreed to terms with pending unrestricted free agents Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick.

But with formal contract extensions unviable, L.A. was always going to have to play out the season and hope those players remained committed into July.

There might be a hitch in that plan.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

That Griffin would also stay and reap the biggest payday he can seems likely, too—in theory. But more and more people around the league believe he would be open to a fresh start—perhaps with the Lakers or the Boston Celtics, who have coveted Griffin for years and would offer a new chance to win.

Does Ding have credible information to suggest Griffin could join the Lakers or Celtics, or is that just speculation on the writer’s part about potential fits? It’s unclear. This is already fairly loosely sourced.

But we should gather more information quickly once free agency begins. Griffin reportedly planned to re-sign quickly. If he shows the faintest hint of exploring the market, that could open the floodgates.

Griffin had been frequently linked to his home-state Thunder, but Oklahoma City would interfere with his burgeoning Hollywood connections.* The same issue would exist with Boston, though obviously not the Lakers. That said, the Celtics are WAY better than the Lakers – and maybe soon the Clippers and Thunder, considering those Nets picks headed to Boston.

*Oklahoma City also since nuked its cap space with contract extensions for Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo, though trades could always clear room if Griffin wants to come home.

The Clippers are in a bad place right now. One one hand, that forebodes another disappointing end to the season. On the other hand, there’s still time to overcome and send Griffin into free agency on a more positive note.

These are dangerous times for the Clippers, who wouldn’t have cap space to adequately replace Griffin, Paul or Redick if one leaves. So, if one bolts, the others seems more likely to follow. Interpersonal relationships matter, but the Clippers’ primary selling points were always going to be money and winning (with Hollywood proximity a bonus). Winning gets harder if talent walks.

They can still offer the most money, and they’re not leaving L.A. But the Clippers better win more to help avoid what could be a tenser-than-expected summer.

Suns use youngest starting lineup in NBA history

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The Suns have shut down their veterans or been shut down by their veterans with two goals in mind – developing young talent and tanking.

Incidentally, Phoenix also made history.

Against the Nets last night, the Suns started:

ESPN:

Elias on ESPN:

The previous youngest was the Clippers’ starting five consisting of guards Eric Bledsoe and Eric Gordon, forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Blake Griffin, and center DeAndre Jordan, who averaged 21 years and 143 days old in a matchup with the Nets on November 15, 2010.

The young Suns gained quality experience – and helped their team to an important loss, 126-98 to Brooklyn.

Phoenix is still 1.5 games “behind” the Lakers for the No. 2 seed in the lottery, but the Suns are within striking distance in case the Lakers screw up and win too much down the stretch.

Georgetown considering alum, Hornets assistant Patrick Ewing as head coach

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Georgetown fired John Thompson III – a totally reasonable move considering the program’s fall, but also a stunning decision considering a Thompson had led the Hoyas 40 of the last 45 years.

John Thompson Jr. still holds influence at Georgetown, and there will be desire to limit the radicality of this shakeup. That’s no easy task in what had become a family program.

A possible solution: Hire Patrick Ewing, who starred under the elder Thompson, excelled with the Knicks and is now associate head coach of the Hornets.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Georgetown officials plan to consider the head-coaching candidacy of the university’s most legendary basketball alumnus, Patrick Ewing, sources told The Vertical.

Ewing, 54, has long been committed to pursuing an NBA head-coaching job and moved closer to getting one with the Sacramento Kings in the spring. Only the sudden availability of Dave Joerger, whom Memphis fired, stood between Ewing and a formal offer, league sources said.

Ewing – who has worked under Steve Clifford in Charlotte, Stan Van Gundy with the Magic, Jeff Van Gundy with the Rockets and Doug Collins with the Wizards – has long coveted an NBA head-coaching job. He had an illustrious career and put in his time as an assistant. Not long ago, that would have gotten him a top job. Now, it merely gets him interviews, and Ewing has yet to close.

Will that change? His close call with the Kings is a positive indicator, but they were desperate with established coaches avoiding them. It doesn’t mean other NBA teams will pick Ewing over a bevy of options.

Georgetown would give Ewing a chance to prove he can lead an entire program after being pigeonholed as a big-man coach. If he wins there, NBA teams would become more interested. His deep professional experience, playing and coaching, means he won’t risk being labeled just a college coach. Plus, returning to his alma mater could be fulfilling.

But the Hoyas could look elsewhere rather than handing the job to someone with no college-coaching experience. As Ewing surely knows by now, there’s no easy path to the top for him.

PBT Podcast: Former Bull B.J. Armstrong talks Jerry Kraus, triangle, Derrick Rose, more

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Three-time NBA champion — turned agent and podcaster in his own right — B.J. Armstrong joins me in this latest podcast and we get into a lot of different topics: late Bulls’ GM Jerry Kraus, the triangle offense in today’s NBA, his being an agent for Derrick Rose heading into free agency, his time in the elite eight with Iowa, and there’s even a Luc Longly story.

We also get into how Armstrong is busy post playing days, both as a Wasserman basketball agent and as a podcaster, he has a new show with Ric Bucher. He’s also working with a company called Cycle where he gives 24-second talks on NBA topics.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.