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HORNETS VS. JAZZ
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
December 17, 2010

The Utah Jazz, a Western Conference foe that has given the Hornets more trouble than any opponent in recent years, visit New Orleans for a Friday matchup. Its the second encounter of the 2010-11 season between these clubs. Utah continued its trend of recent domination over New Orleans last month in Salt Lake City, posting a 105-87 victory on Thanksgiving Eve. That triumph was the Jazzs fourth consecutive over the Hornets, by an average margin of 14.3 points. There are two more games scheduled in the head-to-head series, both in the latter portion of the regular season, including March 24 in Utah and April 11 in NOLA. The latter is the Hornets final home game of 2010-11.

Utah is off to an outstanding start this season, compiling a 18-8 overall record. In mid-November, the Jazz put together one of the most impressive stretches by an NBA team in recent memory, going 4-0 on an East Coast road trip. They came from behind to defeat Miami, Orlando, Atlanta and Charlotte during that trek, causing many NBA analysts to joke that opposing teams shouldnt want to build a big early lead against Utah, because thats when the Jazz seem to be at their best.

The Jazz are once again headlined by All-Star point guard Deron Williams, who is having arguably the best season of whats already been a fantastic six-year NBA career. Utah was supposed to be slowed by the offseason departure of standout power forward Carlos Boozer (who signed with Chicago as a free agent), but trade pickup Al Jefferson has done an admirable job as a replacement. Louisiana Tech product Paul Millsap, a backup behind Boozer for the majority of his pro career, has moved into the starting lineup and been a key cog to the Jazzs early-season success.



INTRIGUING MATCH-UP


Point guard, Chris Paul vs. Deron Williams
These players will likely be compared to one another for the rest of their careers. They were selected third and fourth overall, respectively, during the 2005 NBA Draft and have fulfilled all expectations. The 6-foot Paul has received more individual accolades (3 All-Star appearances to 1), but the 6-foot-3 Williams has often held the upper hand in head-to-head meetings, leading to significant team success for the Jazz.



HORNETS.COM SCOUTING REPORT
A closer look at the Utah Jazz:


Paul Millsap


Al Jefferson

GUARDS
Point guard Deron Williams made his first All-Star appearance in his hometown of Dallas last season, but in truth, it should never have taken that long for him to be selected to the midseason showcase. In his sixth season, the 26-year-old has emerged as the Jazzs unquestioned best player. Williams led Utah to a surprise appearance in the 2007 Western Conference finals, during just his second year in the NBA. After his rookie season of 2005-06, when Williams was brought along slowly and the Jazz went 41-41, the team has registered at least 48 victories every year and won a total of four playoff series. At 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, Williams uses his sturdy frame to overpower smaller guards. Hes also deceptively quick and athletic, able to change directions rapidly on dribble moves and elevate over opposing big men.

Raja Bell started the first 22 games at shooting guard for the Jazz, prior to suffering a strained right hip. The 11-year veteran is known as a fierce competitor and rugged individual defender, whose feistiness has led to a few memorable exchanges with high scorers such as Kobe Bryant.

While leading tiny Butler University to the championship game of the 2010 NCAA Tournament against Duke, swingman Gordon Hayward became an unlikely hero of March Madness. Hayward nearly beat Duke with a halfcourt shot at the buzzer, but the heave deflected off the rim. Early in his rookie NBA season, Hayward is trying to earn a consistent role. He was moved into the starting lineup at shooting guard recently due to Bells injury.

Backup point guard Earl Watson has carved out a 10-year career in the league. The UCLA product was signed by Utah in the offseason as a free agent, after playing for Indiana and Oklahoma City the previous two seasons.

Now in his sixth NBA season, athletic sparkplug Ronnie Price was a late-blooming NBA prospect who played his college ball at Utah Valley University. The 6-foot-2 combo guard is an impressive leaper, capable of highlight-reel dunks.

FORWARDS
Power forward Paul Millsap is a member of a relatively large group of Louisiana natives whove made an impact in the NBA in recent years. Millsap hails from the city of Monroe in the northern portion of the state (his younger brother, Elijah, played at Louisiana-Lafayette). The 6-foot-8, 250-pound Millsap emerged as one of the nations premier interior players in college at Louisiana Tech, leading the country in rebounding for two straight seasons. However, with pro scouts somewhat skeptical about the level of competition he faced, he wasnt selected until the 47th pick of the 2006 NBA Draft. The 25-year-old has proven to be one of the most valuable second-round picks in NBA history. After the free-agent departure of Carlos Boozer, Millsap has received the biggest opportunity of his career to play and is averaging about 18 points and eight rebounds.

Some of Andrei Kirilenkos biggest fans happen to be fantasy basketball players, who have perhaps most appreciated Kirilenkos knack for producing noteworthy statistics in a wide range of categories. At various times throughout his career, the athletic 6-foot-9, 235-pounder has been an above-average shot-blocker, rebounder, scorer and passer, while also averaging over one steal per game. The native of Russia is the longest-tenured member of the Jazz, having spent his entire 10-year pro career with head coach Jerry Sloan in Utah.

Left-handed perimeter threat C.J. Miles has quietly been one key factor behind Utahs head-to-head success against New Orleans in recent years. The Dallas native, who went straight to the NBA from high school in 2005, averaged 13.5 points against the Hornets in 2009-10. Over the four games, Miles shot 54 percent from the field and 47 percent on three-pointers.

A rookie from Sun Belt Conference school Western Kentucky, 6-foot-9, 196-pound Jeremy Evans has received sporadic minutes early in 2010-11.

CENTERS
A native of Mississippi, Al Jefferson has often been called one of the NBAs most underrated players, partly because hes spent the majority of his seven-year career toiling in obscurity with bad teams. As a past member of the Boston Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves, Jefferson has only been to the NBA postseason once. The 6-foot-10, 280-pound pivotman was born in Monticello, Miss. During a stellar basketball career for Prentiss (Miss.) High, Jefferson earned a college scholarship to play for the Arkansas Razorbacks, but he instead opted to enter the NBA draft in 2004.

Ukrainian backup Kyrylo Fesenko was pressed into starting duty during the 2010 playoffs and responded well under the circumstances, helping Utah eliminate Denver in the first round. The 7-foot-1, 280-pounder focuses on defense and rebounding.

Mehmet Okurs postseason injury in April led to Fesenko unexpectedly moving into the starting role. At press time, Okur had not yet made his 2010-11 return, but was reported to be close to getting back into action.

Francisco Elson is a 7-footer whos more comfortable playing away from the basket on offense. The eight-year NBA veteran spent parts of two seasons with New Orleans division rival San Antonio.

Players the Jazz want shooting free throws in a close game
Name Career FT percentage (through Dec. 12)
Deron Williams 80.4
Getting to the line 7.0 times per game this season.
Raja Bell 79.2
In second stint with Jazz, made 26 of first 28 attempts.
C.J. Miles 77.6
Up to 83 percent in 2010-11 after 70 percent last season.
If the Jazz need a three-pointer, three of their best options are
Name Career 3-PT% (through Dec. 12)
Raja Bell 41.0
Playoff-tested veteran, made big shots with 76ers, Suns.
Deron Williams 35.8
Has made five treys in an NBA game four times.
C.J. Miles 33.8
Slightly more accurate than Watson (32.9), Price (31.3).




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