3 reasons the Utah Jazz will want to avoid the Clippers in a playoff series
Given that just a half-game separates them in fourth and fifth place in the NBA’s Western Conference playoff race, it’s not entirely out the realm of possibility that the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers could play each other up to nine more times this season.
As such, contest between the two teams Monday night at Vivint Arena could have been viewed as a potential playoff preview. It didn’t go well for the Jazz who scored a season-low 72 points en route to a 16-point loss.
While it’ll probably be tough for Utah to regularly shoot as poorly as it did Monday (just over 32 percent from the field and just over 17 percent from behind the 3-point line), a few questions arose during Monday’s 88-72 loss that the Jazz will need to answer should they be pitted against the Clippers in a playoff series.
What happens up front?
One of the keys in a matchup between Utah and Los Angeles is always going to be the battle in the frontcourt because both teams have excellent power forwards and centers.
On Monday, the Clippers dominated down low on both ends of the floor. Power forward Blake Griffin basically did whatever he wanted on offense, while center DeAndre Jordan proved worthy of getting selected to the All-Star Game over Rudy Gobert.
Let’s tackle the Griffin issue first. Who can guard him? Derrick Favors would typically be up for the challenge, but he’s not healthy, and there’s no telling if he will be come playoff time. If the Jazz go small and employ Joe Johnson at power forward while Griffin is in the game, that could wind up being a struggle, as it was Monday.
No matter who ends up getting assigned to guard Griffin, Utah needs to be able to at least slow him. On Monday, he went 11-of-18 from the field for 26 points with 10 rebounds and six assists.
As far as Jordan goes, Monday’s contest offered the fiery Gobert the chance to exact some revenge on the Clippers center for getting selected to the All-Star Game over him. While the two finished with nearly identical stat lines, Jordan was far more effective on both ends of the floor when the pair went head-to-head.
Utah has essentially built the idea of a defensive identity around Favors and Gobert, but if Monday was any indication, that might not be much of an advantage against Los Angeles, which could make for a long series should the teams meet in the playoffs.
2. What happens when Chris Paul is in the lineup?
A scary thought for the Jazz is the fact that the Clippers dominated Monday without star point guard Chris Paul, who injured his thumb in mid-January and likely won’t play until sometime in March.
Paul is one of the best floor generals in the NBA, meaning that the Los Angeles offense can be that much better with him in the game. Griffin and shooting guard J.J. Redick will be big beneficiaries of Paul’s return, and Jordan does a lot with Paul’s help to earn the Clippers their Lob City nickname.
George Hill will likely do an adequate job guarding Paul, although replacement Austin Rivers did score 15 points Monday night. Depending on how minutes are staggered, the Jazz will have to get production from some combination of Dante Exum, Shelvin Mack and Raul Neto to stick with Los Angeles.
3. Can the Jazz beat a veteran team in a playoff series?
Utah badly needs the All-Star break to get here. The team needs to recharge for the home stretch of the regular season, and it’ll get that opportunity after Wednesday’s game at home against Portland, but will it be the same story in April if the two teams meet in the playoffs as far as fatigue goes?
The Clippers over the past five seasons have been in the upper half of the Western Conference, meaning they have plenty of playoff experience. Even with veterans Hill, Johnson and Boris Diaw, the Jazz don’t have much. No matter who it draws in the first round of the playoffs, Utah is going to have to grow up quickly, but that’ll be the case even more if it plays Los Angeles.
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While nine games is the maximum number of times the Jazz and Clippers could play throughout the rest of the season, they’ll for sure play each other two more times in contests that could prove to have even more imminent playoff considerations than Monday’s contest.
It stands to reason Utah will shoot better in those games than it did Monday, but there still certainly are other reasons to be concerned about a matchup with Los Angeles should the teams face one another in the playoffs when it matters most.
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Published at Tue, 14 Feb 2017 20:00:00 +0000