April 13, 2012

On Friday the 13th, the New Orleans Hornets try to hand the Utah Jazz a costly defeat in the Jazzs pursuit of a Western Conference postseason berth. New Orleans ruined Utahs previous trip to the Big Easy exactly two months ago, an 86-80 Hornets triumph on Feb. 13. The Jazz struck first in the three-game series, posting a narrow 94-90 victory in Salt Lake City way back on Jan. 2, during the first week of the abbreviated 66-game schedule.

If New Orleans prevails against Utah on Friday, it will be the third opponent that the Hornets have defeated more than once in 2011-12. The only clubs to have been beaten twice by New Orleans this season are Denver and Minnesota, both of which lost games in the Crescent City earlier this month, on April 4 and April 7, respectively.

After playing the role of spoiler in the Hive against the Nuggets and Timberwolves, the Hornets would love to do likewise vs. a Jazz team that is in the middle of a heated playoff race. Entering Thursday, Utah was in ninth place in the West, only 1.5 games behind eighth-place Houston. Fridays visit to New Orleans is the second stop on what could prove to be a pivotal three-game road trip for Utah. The Jazz won at Houston on Wednesday and will play at Memphis on Saturday night.

Including Fridays game, Utah only has seven contests remaining on its 66-game slate, leaving very little margin for error. For New Orleans, this is the first of three consecutive home games in which the guest will be fighting for playoff positioning. The Hornets host fifth-place Memphis on Sunday, then wrap up their home docket on Thursday, April 19 against sixth-place Houston.

Intriguing matchup: Center, Chris Kaman vs. Al Jefferson
Jefferson is the only Utah player to have registered double-digit points in both previous games against New Orleans this season, using his size and skill in the paint to score 22 and 14 points. In Utahs victory on Jan. 2, Kaman came off the bench to contribute 14 points and six rebounds in 29 minutes, but the 6-foot-10 Jefferson powered the Jazz with 22 points on 11-for-18 shooting.


The foundation for the future of the Jazz was partly laid on Feb. 23, 2011, when Utah decided to trade veteran franchise point guard Deron Williams to New Jersey, in exchange for point guard Devin Harris, then-rookie forward Derrick Favors and first-round picks in both the 2011 and 2012 NBA drafts. The Jazz converted the 11 first-rounder into third overall draft choice Enes Kanter, a conventional center who has displayed promise in a reserve role. It remains to be seen what the Jazzs upcoming extra first-round pick will yield, but with the Nets missing the playoffs again this season, Utah will receive a bonus lottery selection for the second straight year. While the Jazz are set up nicely for the future, they also have designs on making the Western Conference postseason this year. Its been a bit of a roller-coaster season for Utah, which began the season with a promising 10-5 record, but went just 4-11 in February. In recent weeks the Jazz have again trended upward, moving into contention for eighth place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

What's new
The Jazz have an identical roster to their previous Feb. 13 trip to New Orleans, having opted to stand pat at the March 15 NBA trading deadline. They added forward DeMarre Carroll to the roster in early February, but he plays sparingly on a Utah team with a deep frontcourt. The Jazz do have a large group of young players, including five in their rookie or second NBA seasons.

Jazz star
A native of Mississippi, Al Jefferson hasnt quite achieved star status yet, still awaiting his first All-Star appearance. However, the 6-foot-10 center is the Jazzs anchor, leading the club in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. The eighth-year pro is a throwback type of big man, comfortable playing with his back to the basket and trying to overwhelm defenders with muscle and old-school post-up moves. Despite his excellent statistics, one reason Jefferson remains a bit underrated is that he has not played on many quality teams as a pro. He has only reached the playoffs once, as a Boston Celtics rookie back in 2005.

Jazz on the rise
With Utahs second of two first-round picks last June, the Jazz selected Colorado leading scorer Alec Burks, who appears to be the shooting guard of the future. Burks showed the Hornets a glimpse of his potential on Feb. 13, when he helped spark a Jazz second-half comeback. After trailing 66-51 through three quarters, Utah made matters interesting in the fourth quarter behind a spirited reserve unit. Burks drew frequent New Orleans fouls on drives, going 7-for-10 from the foul line. The 20-year-old did not play against the Hornets in the Jan. 2 meeting.

On the sideline
Tyrone Corbin took over for legendary Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan, who resigned from his post midway through last season. It was an unenviable task for Corbin, who went just 8-20 en route to Utah missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006. However, in his first full season at the helm, Corbin has the Jazz looking much more like its earlier successful clubs. Utah has been one of the most consistent franchises in the NBA for the past three decades, finishing at least .500 in all but one season from 1983-84 through 2009-10.

Did you know?
Utah second-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder Paul Millsap is an unlikely success story. After being an unheralded performer in college at Louisiana Tech, he was chosen midway through the second round of the 2006 NBA Draft. After being Carlos Boozers backup for the first few years of his career, the Monroe, La., native moved into a starting role and has thrived. Uncharacteristically, Millsap has struggled this season against his home-state NBA club, averaging 5.0 points and 5.5 rebounds vs. New Orleans, though his playing time has been relatively limited at just 24 minutes per game.

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 April 10)
Scored key 19 points in Jan. 2 win over New Orleans.
Former Butler star has improved steadily in second season.
NOLA has limited him to five total attempts in two games.
Name Career three-point percentage (through April 10)
Raja Bell (40.6) also a major threat, but is out with knee injury.
Second on Jazz behind Harris in made threes this season.
Dropped in crucial late-game trey vs. Hornets on Jan. 2.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Buy 2012-13 Season Tickets Now