The Back Story:
- First meeting of the season. Utah won the season series last year 3 games to 1.
The Big Picture:
The Clippers continue their first multi-game road trip of the season with a trip to Salt Lake City to face the Jazz. The Clippers haven't beaten the Jazz on the road since early 2003. Before that win you have to go back to 1989. That's correct. In more than 20 years, the Clippers have won once in Utah. They've lost 40 times. Actually, if you include playoff series, they've lost 45 times. That's how long this Utah futility has been going on - the Clippers actually made two postseason trips to Utah in that time, and let's face it, the Clippers don't make the post-season all that frequently. The Clippers dropped to 1-5 last night in Denver, losing a game they could have won. The Clippers will be without Baron Davis and Randy Foye again, but the way that rookie Eric Bledsoe has been playing, that may not be a bad thing. Despite missing their top two point guards, LA had a season-low 10 turnovers against the Nuggets. If you didn't know the history of the Clippers in Utah, you might think they'd have a chance in this game. Here's hoping that the players don't know the history.
This is the first time this season that the Clippers have faced a team with a losing record as the Jazz have opened the season 2-3. There are certainly some questions about this Jazz roster. They've lost three starters and a key reserve from last year's opening day roster (Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver) and another starter is currently injured (Mehmut Okur). Of course, that fourth starter is Deron Williams, and he's pretty good. They also added a potential All Star in Al Jefferson, and they had some pretty good players on their bench last year in Andrei Kirilenko and Paul Millsap who have slid into the starting lineup. So there's still talent in Utah. But it's reasonable to question the depth on this team, given the number of players they lost. Bringing C.J. Miles, Jeremy Evans and Gordon Hayward off the bench is not the same as bringing Millsap, Kirilenko and Korver, and who knows how Okur will look when he returns from an Achilles injury at the age of 31. They could be in trouble for making the playoffs, and their 2-3 start is not a good sign for them.
- The last time the Clippers won in Utah. George Bush was in his first term as president. Blake Griffin was 13 years old. The starters for the Clippers were Lamar Odom, Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Andre Miller and Sean Rooks. The coach of the Clippers was Alvin Gentry. The starters for the Jazz included a guy named Stockton and a guy named Malone. Kirilenko is the only player from either roster who was at that game. The coach of the Jazz was Jerry Sloan.
- The time before that. George Bush was in his first term as president - that's George H.W. Bush. Blake Griffin was one month old (33 days, to be exact). The starters for the Clippers were Charles Smith, Benoit Benjamin, Tom Garrick, Ken Norman and Gary Grant. The coach of the Clippers was Don Casey. The starters for the Jazz included a guy named Stockton and a guy named Malone. The coach of the Jazz was Jerry Sloan (it was his first season as Utah's head coach).
- Back to backs. As it happens, both teams are coming off of back to backs, and both teams lost by seven points last night. Deron Williams (38 minutes), Paul Millsap (39) and Al Jefferson all logged big minutes for the Jazz in their loss to the Warriors. All of the Clippers starters logged at least 34 minutes, led by Eric Gordon's 40. The Jazz actually had tougher travel, covering almost 600 miles from Oakland, while the Clippers had to fly fewer than 400 miles from Denver.
- Three point shooting. The Jazz are taking fewer three pointers than any team in the league at about 13 per game. This bodes well for the Clippers, who have been destroyed from deep in most of their losses.
- Another day, another All Star point guard. After facing Jason Kidd Sunday (in a reserve role), Russell Westbrook Wednesday and Chauncey Billups last night, 20 year old rookie Eric Bledsoe will line up across from Deron Williams tonight. Williams is the best of that group, though he has not had a blazing start to the season. He's averaging 18 points and 9 assists on the young season, but shooting only 42%. He had 8 turnovers against the Warriors last night.
- Millsap. Paul Millsap, a notorious Clipper killer, has responded well to replacing Boozer in the starting lineup. He's averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds, while shooting 62% from the field. However, Griffin may be the Clippers answer. In the past, they never had a four to match Millsap's activity. Griffin should win this matchup.
- Griffin. Speaking of Griffin, coming off a career high 26 point performance in Denver, and matched up against the undersized Millsap and with Utah being size challenged in general, I expect Griffin to have a huge game.
- Aminu and Hayward. The Clippers were desperate for a small forward in June's draft, and for many people the choice came down to Al-Farouq Aminu or Gordon Hayward. The Clippers went with Aminu with the 8th pick, and Heyward ended up going to the Jazz with the next selection. Hayward appeared to be the more finished product, and logged 21 minutes in his first NBA game. But Jerry Sloan may be losing faith in the rookie, as his minutes have dwidled to 8 and 4 in the last two. He's made 9 of 24 shots so far, and has yet to make a three. Meanwhile, Aminu has also struggled from the field, making 6 of 20 shots, but surprisingly has already made three three pointers. Hopefully we'll get to see the rookies go head to head tonight.
- Tempo. Against the Nuggets in Denver, the Clippers didn't push the ball nearly as effectively as they did at home on Wednesday. Whether that was because of the altitude, or because they didn't want to get into a track meet with the Nuggets is unclear. The Jazz also like to run, so the same issue exists in this game, but the Clippers need to push in order to get some easy scores. It also happens to be when Bledsoe is at his best.
- Altitude. Hopefully, with the Clippers having played in Denver last night, the altitude in Salt Lake won't be a factor in this game.
- Superstar for one game: Jeremy Evans. I guess I'm not allowed to pick Millsap now that he's a starter. Of course, this award might as well be called the Millsap Award (or the Sappy, for short), since it was his breakout performances that first got us going on this meme of relatively unknown players playing like all pros against the Clippers. So with Millsap off the table, I'll go with Evans, mainly because I've never heard of him. Evans is listed as questionable, but I feel certain that he'll play and get a career high. (His previous career high was 11, so it won't be that easy for him.)
Though the Jazz Age continued it became less and less an affair of youth. The sequel was like a children's party taken over by the elders.
- Get the Jazz perspective at SLC Dunk.