The Raptors arrive in Utah with a chance to wreak vengeance on the team which beat them in triple overtime at the ACC. That game, more than any other, was the one in which the ice broke under Toronto’s feet; they crashed through, & have not been the same since.
Utah has been hangin’ round the periphery of the Western Conference playoff race for years, & last season managed to slide into the #8 spot. They sit at #7 currently, but the Conference is tighter than a longbow string, so the Jazz won’t lack for motivation. The Jazz seem to be comfortable as an unbalanced squad with a logjam of skilful big men battling for minutes, but a mediocre backcourt. Their best guard, by from here to Yellowknife, is the undersized but not underskilled Mo Williams, out from under the giant shadow of Chris Paul in La-La Land. He will battle our Little Big Man, Kyle Lowry, all night. Gordon Hayward has lost his starting Small Forward role to veteran Randy Foye, a better 3-point threat. Marvin Williams still starts, which is a head-scratcher for me. But there’s no mystery about their starting big men – Al Jefferson & Paul Millsap are Utah’s top rebounders & scorers, & will be a load all night for Jonas Valanciunas & Andrea Bargnani. Derrick Favors, an improving Power Forward, will tussle on the boards, giving Utah a formidable no-letup front court. Expect to see Ed Davis & Amir Johnson a lot; I wouldn’t be surprised at an Aaron Gray sighting.
The Jazz bench is sound, but not overwhelming. Jamaal Tinsley has not found his outside touch so far this season. Let’s hope he doesn’t stumble across it tonight. Enes Kanter has been an underachiever to date in his pro career. He was supposed to be part of the mix among the bigs, but has fallen out of favour.
Coach Casey must be at wit’s end, trying to figure out which Bargnani will play tonight – the solid scorer & part-timer rebounder, or his Evil Twin, aka Dr. Blasé? We’ll need the good one, & a reasonable facsimile of the Mikael Pietrus who showed up against the Kings. Jose Calderon has been disappointing the last few games. His shooting has been off, & he’s made some shockingly bad passes leading to easy turnovers. Kyle Lowry can’t be expected to provide 30+ points on demand – he’s got to get some help. So does DeMar DeRozan, but from the men in stripes. DeMar’s frustration with non-calls has led to some shouting & technical fouls.
It all comes down to Bargnani – if he’s hitting from outside, the Raps’ offensive spacing works. Let’s be optimistic one last time. Raptors 101 – Jazz 98.