February 13, 2012

Each year since 2009, the Hornets have worn special Mardi Gras uniforms during this festive time of year in New Orleans. The team sported the purple, green and gold outfits for the first time this season in Fridays home game against Portland, and is wearing them again Monday in the Hive, as part of Mardi Gras Madness. The team holds an annual celebration of Mardi Gras every February; coincidentally the visiting team this time is the Utah Jazz, who once called New Orleans home. The Jazz played five NBA seasons in the Crescent City from 1974-79, but moved to Salt Lake City for the 1979-80 season. The Jazzs best record during their five-year run in New Orleans was 39-43, causing them to miss the playoffs each time. That meant that the first NBA postseason game in the city did not take place until 2003, when the Hornets reached the playoffs in their first season here.

When the Jazz originated in New Orleans back in the mid-1970s, their uniforms were also created with Mardi Gras in mind, with purple, green and gold being the most prominent colors. Although the Jazz changed their look for several years to a combination of navy blue and light blue, the Jazz returned to their old-school foundation prior to the 2010-11 season. As a result, during Mondays Western Conference matchup, both the visiting team and the home team are sporting colors that are a nod to one of New Orleans most famous traditions.

Aside from similar colors, the Hornets and Jazz have had very little in common early 2011-12. After missing the playoffs in 2011, Utah has been one of the leagues bigger surprises, sporting a 13-11 record in its first 24 games.

Intriguing matchup: Center, Emeka Okafor vs. Al Jefferson
Utah pulled out a 94-90 home victory over NOLA on Jan. 2, with Jefferson turning in an excellent performance in the paint. Jefferson scored 22 points and was an anchor for the Jazzs halfcourt offense. Okafor, the only Hornet to start every game this season, has been a much-improved offensive player in 2011-12.


After a run of four consecutive trips to the playoffs from 2007-10, the Jazz missed the playoffs in 2011, sporting a final record of 39-43. It was a forgettable year for Utah, including the resignation of longtime head coach Jerry Sloan and the trade of franchise point guard Deron Williams. Entering 2011-12, outside expectations for Utah were low, with few NBA analysts predicting a playoff trip for the Jazz. However, Utah won 10 of its first 15 games, a record that kept it in the thick of the Northwest Division race. The Jazz cooled off a bit recently and were 13-11 entering the weekend. Although many NBA teams are noticeably better at home than on the road, the Jazz seem to have taken that to an extreme so far in 2011-12, with an 11-4 record in Utah but just 2-7 everywhere else. After a very favorable early schedule, Utah must considerably improve its success on the road to be able to stay in the hunt for a Western Conference playoff berth.

Whats new
Utah made a slew of major roster changes last season, but only a few minor tweaks entering 2011-12. Of the Jazzs top eight leading scorers, the only new face is 31-year-old small forward Josh Howard, who first made his name in the NBA as a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Utah has two rookies on its roster, both first-round picks. A center, Enes Kanter was the No. 3 overall choice and has provided valuable rebounding and defensive contributions in the paint. Shooting guard Alec Burks has impressive potential and has appeared in the majority of Utahs games. Along with Howard, 33-year-old point guard Jamaal Tinsley was signed by Utah to upgrade the teams depth and experience.

Jazz star
Utahs biggest strength is its talented and deep frontcourt, which is headlined by center Al Jefferson, a throwback post player who scores the majority of his points in the paint. Jefferson leads the Jazz in scoring average and blocked shots and is second in rebounding. The Mississippi native enjoyed a typical performance in Utahs Jan. 2 victory over New Orleans, topping the hosts with 22 points on 11-for-18 shooting.

Jazzman on the rise
Gordon Hayward became a household basketball name during the 2010 NCAA Tournament, when he nearly led tiny Butler University to the national championship (the Bulldogs also reached the NCAA finals in 2011 after Hayward was drafted in the lottery portion of the first round by Utah). After a slow start to his rookie season in 2010-11 with the Jazz, Hayward is playing significantly more minutes and has started every game at small forward. The 6-foot-8, 210-pounder is only 21 years old.

On the sideline
Tyrone Corbin took over the helm in Utah under difficult circumstances. Following the unexpected resignation of Sloan the Jazzs head coach since the late 1980s Corbin was promoted midway through last season. Less than two weeks later, Utah traded Williams to New Jersey, in a deal that caused significant roster upheaval. After starting 31-23 under Sloan, the Jazz went only 8-20 with Corbin on the bench and missed the playoffs. Corbin has already won more games than that this season, however, guiding one of the NBAs most improved clubs. Corbin played a total of 16 years in the NBA, from 1985 to 2001, including three seasons for the Jazz in the early 1990s.

Did you know?
Millsap is one of a total of 98 players in NBA history who were born in the state of Louisiana, according to the website Based on career points scored, Millsap ranked 33rd among the 98 through Feb. 9 but was closing quickly on the likes of Robert Pack and Bobby Phills. The top five players on that list are Karl Malone, Elvin Hayes, Robert Parish, Clyde Drexler and Bob Pettit.

Players the Jazz want shooting free throws in a close game... If the Jazz need a three-pointer, three of their best options are...
Name Career FT percentage (through Feb. 9)
Slumping a bit at 68.9 percent early in 2011-12.
Made nearly 90 percent of his attempts last season.
Millsap (71.1), Jefferson (70.6) are above-average bigs at line.
Name Career three-point percentage (through Feb. 9)
Top threat for Jazz team ranked 28th in three-point makes.
Shot 47.3 percent as a rookie in 2010-11.
Earl Watson also a 33.0 career shooter on treys.

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