UTAH JAZZ (24-18) 112.6 ORtg (# 3), 108.0 DRtg (#16), 93.1 Pacer (# 7)
BALLHYPE | NBA.com PREVIEW
(Kelly Dwyer previewed this one, too; I almost lost the afternoon to nostaglia watching those videos. God, 1999 was fun.)
Historically, Utah has been considered a slow, defense-minded squad with several top-flight weapons. This is owed in part to Jerry Sloan's legacy as a hard-ass, and in part to the second millenium stylings of John Stockton and Karl Malone. Things have changed, though.
For the second straight season, Utah's a brilliant offensive force who plays quite up-tempo in spots. Deron Williams isn't the fastest guard in the league, and the pick-and-roll still rules all. But the Jazz boast a relatively high pace, which (seemingly) has played into the Kings' hands the last few (highly competitive) matchups.
The defense? It's got holes. Especially inside. If you can avoid Andrei Kirilenko, you can score in the paint on Utah. All night. John Salmons was brilliant in the fourth quarter of the immediate-past Jazz-Kings game, and surprise! He excels in the paint. Penetration from Kevin Martin and Beno Udrih, as well as a thimbleful of funky Brad Miller drives, should go a long way to augmenting the traditional Sacramento perimeter attack (which has looked pretty good since Mike Bibby returned, save the cold night from Martin and Artest on Wednesday).
Meanwhile, no Kings guard can stop Williams on the pick-and-roll (save maybe Dahntay Jones or Quincy Douby) and no Kings defender could possibly stand up Carlos Boozer. I suspect we'll either see early-often doubles on Boozer (bringing Martin off of Ronnie Brewer or Ron Artest off of Kirilenko), and some hefty doses of a small lineup with Artest guarding Boozer and the single big (Miller, Mikki Moore or Spencer Hawes) sticking tight to Mehmet Okur. (Actually, I doubt we'll see Hawes. It's a good matchup for him offensively, but he can't handle Okur, Boozer or Paul Millsap. I suspect Miller or Moore will be in the game at all times.)
It's always entertaining, at least, so bundle up and enjoy this one. It's a 6 pm tip. Go Kings.