After losing to the Thunder at home Saturday night, Utah is 30-22 and four games behind the Northwest division leading OK City, and a half a game behind 2nd place Denver. Deron Williams played in his 2nd game after missing 4 games with a strained tendon in his wrist but Mehmet Okur and Andre Kirilenko were still out. Utah is only 13-12 on the road this season and is only 3-7 in their last 10 games.
Since January 1st, Utah had been 1-7 on the road before defeating Denver on Friday. They lost to Washington, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Golden State, Memphis, Boston and the Lakers, and their only win before Friday came against Houston. They’ve been 6-4 at home but the home wins came against Cleveland, Charlotte, Detroit, Memphis, New York, and Minnesota, and they lost to Atlanta, San Antonio, OK City and Houston.
Utah is slightly above the League average offensively and slightly below defensively. They are 0.03% below the league average FG% and 0.07% above the average for FG% allowed. They are a below average 3P% shooting team at around 35% which is still better than the King’s 33.4%. They do shoot FT’s at 78.5% which ranks them 9th best. They take good care of the ball but have a tendency to foul at a high rate which is why their opponents have the highest Free Throw Rate in the league. In Offensive Rebounding they are just average and rank 19th. Not surprising for a Jerry Sloan team, the Jazz are 2nd only to Boston in assists per game. Defensively they are 4th in Steals and Blocks, and they have the 4th best Defensive Rebounding Rate.
In our only meeting so far this season, the Jazz beat the Kings 94-83 in Utah back on November 22nd but the game really wasn’t that close. The Jazz led by 12 points by half time, and by 79-56 at the end of the 3rd quarter. Sloan went with his reserves for almost the entire 2nd quarter and they outscored us 29-15, and ran the Kings off the floor. The Jazz ended with a 24-10 advantage in fast break points.
The Kings won the battle of the boards 50-39 and 16-9 on the offensive glass, but they turned the ball over too much (seems to be a repetitive comment lately), losing that battle 15-7. The Kings did outshoot the Jazz 5-3 from beyond the arc, and were only outscored by 3 from the FT line. Unfortunately, the Kings only shot 36% from the field while allowing the Jazz to shot 44.8%.
Coach Westphal was going thru his defensive starting unit phase, which consisted of Dalembert, Head, Greene, Landry and Evans. The Kings had held only one team to less than 100 pts in their 1st ten games. But, this was the 3rd game in a row that the Kings held their opponents to less than 95, so for the most part the defense was getting better. Unfortunately, Head and Dalembert combined for 3 of 13 and 9pts, and Evans went 3 of 12 and 11pts. Cousins off the bench was 5 of 13 but got to the FT line 10 times, and ended up being the high scorer with 18pts 9 rebs. Landry went 5 of 12 for 12pts and 3 rebs, while Donte was 5 of 10 for 10pt and 5 rebs. Westphal went to his bench once the game started to get away from us, and no one played over 30 minutes and 11 of the 12 players that entered the game saw double digit minutes.
Utah’s leading scorers were CJ Miles with 20 and Al Jefferson with 19. The Jazz outscore the Kings in the paint with Miles and Kirilenko doing most of the damage making 8 of 9. Greene and Landry were 7 of 11 in the paint for the Kings, but Evans and Cousins were only 3 of 13. In the end, the Kings ended up 12 for 35 in the paint to the Jazz’s 16 for 29.
The Jazz have had a series of injuries lately, with Williams missing 4 of the last 6 games with a wrist sprain. Mehmet Okur had only played in 13 games since returning in December from offseason surgery for a ruptured left Achilles, when he reaggravated a lower back injury on January 28th and has missed the last 5 games. Utah's 83-78 win over Charlotte last Monday night came at a price as Andre Kirilenko suffered a badly sprained left ankle and has missed the last 3 games. In AK47’s absence, Sloan has gone with rookie Gordon Haywood and Paul Millsap at the forwards and Al Jefferson at center with Kyrylo Fesenko and Francisco Elson splitting the backup Center minutes. C.J. Miles is getting the majority of the SF minutes even with Haywood starting, and Earl Watson is getting the majority of the backup guard minutes. Sloan’s backcourt of Deron Williams and Raja Bell saw 41 minutes each in the Denver game and 36 minutes each against OK City.
Some things have changed (besides injuries) since these teams last meet and something’s haven’t. The Kings are still turning over the ball at a high rate, and they’re still one of the top rebounding teams. The Kings lineup and rotations have solidified, Tyreke’s problems with his feet seem to be receding, and DeMarcus is settling in and playing more consistently as the starter. The Kings are still at the bottom of the league in FG%, 3P%, and Assists per game. The Jazz started out the season like gang busters going 22-11, but are under .500 since January 1st (8-11), while the Kings are 6-12 since New Year’s Eve, against much tougher competition.
Even without Okur and Kirilenko, they’re still a Jerry Sloan coached team, which means that they know how to play team ball and within the system. Should the Kings win the game which I think could happen, they will have to shut down Miles and/or Millsap. Miles is shooting about 5 threes per game and hitting 35%, but he’s done most of his damage against us inside, so this is going to be a good challenge for Omri. Millsap is tied with Jefferson as their 2nd highest scorer at 17ppg but the Kings bigs held him to 4-10 and 11 pts in the last game and need to do that again with or without JT who could return for this game.
Jefferson and Williams are going to get their points; they’re just too talented not to, plus we have no defensive answer in our backcourt. We need to take high percentage shots, because Utah’s guards are going to get easy high percentage shots for their guys. Most of all, the exterior defense needs to improve; the bigs have to come out and help on picks, and the guards have to learn when to switch so they can stop the entry pass to the roller. It’s time for one more little baby step on the way to getting it all. Take it guys you’re ready. Go Kings.