All that Jazz

NBA BUZZ - Bobby Motus (The Freeman) - April 7, 2021 - 12:00am

It’s six more weeks until the post season begins and with about 20 more games to go, things are getting heated for the playoff contenders.  Lottery-headed teams are simply giving away games and are just positioning themselves for the ping-pong balls.

For the past two seasons, Utah had failed to move beyond the first round of the playoffs, losing to the Houston Rockets in five games the previous year and to the Denver Nuggets in seven games at the Orlando bubble.   With all cylinders firing this time around, the Jazz, with the best overall record in the league at the moment, hope to replicate the two consecutive Finals run the franchise made in 1997 and 1998.

The 1997 and 1998 team starred John Stockton and Karl Malone, the best pair to never win an NBA championship, losing to another great pair, but to me, not the best, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.  For 18 years, they are the most unstoppable pick-and-roll combo the league had ever seen.

After the partnership ended, the closest thing the Jazz had to the Stockton-to-Malone era was the pairing of Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams.  The two were explosive but couldn’t stay long together because Boozer had some injury issues and the team’s luck of always running into the mighty LA Lakers in the playoffs.  The combo ended after five seasons when Williams was traded to New Jersey and Boozer to Chicago.

The current Jazz line-up doesn’t have strong pick-and-roll options but this could be the best unit since the ones led by the franchise icons and the short-lived Booz-D-Will tandem.   They have a talented core of nine players in Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley, Royce O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors and Georges Niang.

Their 46-point victory over the hapless Orlando Magic last Sunday was a 3-point shooting exhibition breaking the record of 17 first half threes made by Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors in 2018. 

The Jazz ended the half with 18 first half threes made, a new NBA record.  They surpassed the franchise record of 14 threes made midway in the second quarter.  Five of the above-mentioned players (Mitchell, Bogdanovic, Clarkson, Ingles and Niang) accounted for the 18 threes made out of 31 tries.

Utah is proving itself in the regular season but it is the playoffs that matter most.  The Western Conference is always loaded and there’s Phoenix rising, a souped-up Denver and the two LA teams.  It’s all about matchups and if the Jazz gets a dominant team in the first round, that’s a big hump to jump over.  Of course, with an unaltered lineup after the trading deadline, team chemistry and all that jazz very evident, a deep playoff run is very possible for Utah.

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