Utah Jazz at Raptors: Preview 3 keys to win

Nov 18, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) and forward James Johnson (3) box out Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) in the fourth quarter at EnergySolutions Arena. The Utah Jazz defeated the Toronto Raptors 93-89. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 18, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) and forward James Johnson (3) box out Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) in the fourth quarter at EnergySolutions Arena. The Utah Jazz defeated the Toronto Raptors 93-89. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Raptors must avoid losing the season series to another sub-par Western Conference opponent.

The Utah Jazz make their only visit to the Air Canada Centre tonight, where the Raptors await with payback on their mind. Toronto lost in Salt Lake City in mid-November, which dropped their record to a perilous 7-6. That’s the closest the Raptors have been to the .500 mark. Now they are a Beast of the East, but one which can’t rest lightly. The Boston Celtics are coming on strong.

Meanwhile, the Jazz – this team has been rebuilding for a considerable period of time, and seems to have settled on a core group. Their starters are young and relatively inexpensive; while this season appears destined to be their fourth straight without a playoff appearance, I like them as future Western contenders.

Nov 18, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) draws the foul by the Toronto Raptors forward Bismack Biyombo (8) in the fourth quarter at EnergySolutions Arena. The Utah Jazz defeated the Toronto Raptors 93-89. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 18, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) draws the foul by the Toronto Raptors forward Bismack Biyombo (8) in the fourth quarter at EnergySolutions Arena. The Utah Jazz defeated the Toronto Raptors 93-89. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports /

Their longest-serving and best player is swingman Gordon Hayward. He’s a coach’s dream: a consistently healthy scorer and defender, a player who gets his teammates involved in the offense. Rudy Gobert at centre is ultra-long and surprisingly smooth. He’s more than a shot-blocker, averaging over 10 points and rebounds in this, his second season. Rodney Hood has been a pleasant surprise as the shooting guard. The left-hander is averaging almost 15 points per game, and won’t be an easy cover for DeMar DeRozan. At power forward, Derrick Favors is a textbook example of the breed. Mobile and skilled, he scores and rebounds effectively. The fifth starter, Shelvin Mack, is not yet a member of their core group, having just joined the squad. He’s had a lot of chances in the NBA without ever seizing a prominent role. However, he’s off to a solid start in Utah, averaging 13 points in his five games.

That’s a solid group of starters – so why are they 28-31 and in a 3-game slide? Their bench has to take the hit for much of their struggles. In fairness, the Jazz are missing two young players of promise, Alec Burks and Dante Exum. Both are out with long-term injuries. Trey Burke, a small point guard, can score but has been the subject of persistent trade rumours. Are they affecting him? Joe Ingles is one of those mystery players. I’ve seen him play a number of times, and can’t understand what he’s doing in the NBA. He’s supposed to be a shooter, but I’ve seen little evidence. Trey Lyles, the pride of Saskatoon, is a rookie power forward who’s garnering a lot of positive press.

This is likely to be a slow-paced, probing game, but it’s certainly one the Raptors can and should win if they…:

  1. …crash the offensive glass. The Jazz are near the league’s bottom in defensive rebounds. While Luis Scola is listed as the starting power forward, I’d be surprised if we didn’t get an early look at Jason Thompson.
  2. …attack. The Jazz commit a lot of fouls (21.4), and our team ranks fourth in attempts from the stripe (26.4) and tenth in percentage of makes (78.2). That’s an appealing mix.
  3. …harass the ball handlers. The Jazz are turnover prone, which is hardly surprising with such a young group.

The Raptors lost in Detroit, and maybe they had an excuse. There’s none tonight [20-second timeout: I saw DeMar last night at a fan event. He was there with his wife and daughter, and all looked well.] so time to get back on the horse. Toronto 102-Utah 92.