The NBA is finally back! After a crazy offseason, most of us don’t know what to expect from the Jazz or their western rivals. Here is a quick preview of what to look for in the first four games of the season for the Utah Jazz as well as some tips for what the Jazz will need to do to win.
Denver Nuggets – Wednesday OCT 18
The Jazz open the season against a team that might just be their polar opposite. While the Jazz are expected to have a top 3 defense lead by Rudy Gobert, the Nuggets are hoping to have a top 3 offense, lead by Nikola Jokic. Add the fact that the Jazz lost a star free agent this summer while the Nuggets landed one, and it creates a truly interesting dynamic for this Rocky Mountain Rivalry.
While both teams are expected to be battling for playoff spots, no one can agree on how high or how low to set expectations for either team. The first game of the season is always tricky, so let’s just enjoy the game, not read into whoever wins or loses, and rejoice that Jazz basketball is back!
@ Minnesota Timberwolves – Friday OCT 20
The Jazz hit the road for the first time and head to Minnesota, where expectations are higher than they have been in years. After adding established stars Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague to an already talented young core of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, Wolves fans will be banking on ending their 13-year playoff drought. Meanwhile, the Jazz are counting on long-time Timberwolf Ricky Rubio to help them overcome the loss of Gordon Hayward and return to the playoffs.
This matchup, while too early in the season to draw any definitive conclusions from, could be a good early-season gauge for both teams’ playoff hopes. Can the Jazz, who boast a stingy defense, create enough offense to keep up with high-scoring teams like the Wolves? And can Minnesota, whose offense was already ranked 9th pre-Butler/Teague, improve their poor defense enough to beat well-coached teams like Utah?
Oklahoma City Thunder – Saturday OCT 21
All eyes around the NBA will be on Salt Lake City tonight as the new look Thunder visit the Jazz. Excitement is high in Oklahoma City after GM Sam Presti miraculously turned a collection of overpaid, borderline starters into Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. To be fair, when you add two all-stars like that to a team sheet that already includes MVP/charging bull Russell Westbrook, you are allowed to be excited.
Finding the right balance between three ball-dominant scorers could be a challenge for the Thunder. The Jazz, on the other hand, are faced with the opposite challenge: the potential of not having a go-to scorer. Who will step up to become their number one scoring option in the wake of Hayward’s departure? This should be an interesting storyline to follow as the season goes on.
@ Los Angeles Clippers – Tuesday OCT 24
The Jazz return to Los Angeles just six months after ousting the Clippers in Game 7 of the first round—a loss that put the final nail in the Lob City coffin. Chris Paul’s ensuing trade to Houston, as well as the signing of Danilo Gallinari, means the Jazz return to LA to play a team that looks very different than the one they beat in April. In a contest between two teams with playoff hopes in a loaded Western Conference, a couple of key matchups could determine who takes home the W.
First, the big man battle—you can bet Rudy Gobert has this date circled on his calendar. He relishes the opportunity to prove himself (and disprove his critics) against all-stars like DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. Derrick Favors will also match up against Griffin, which could be a good measure of whether or not Favs is back to his athletic best. The other intriguing matchup comes at the point guard position, with passing genius Ricky Rubio pitted against annoyingly feisty Patrick Beverly. If Rubio can win this matchup and keep the Utah offense flowing with Beverly nipping at his heels, the Jazz should have enough to get the win.
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