Thursday, January 27 2022

The young 2021-22 season has been all about change. There is a lot of it on display throughout the league. There are new faces in new places, with players and coaches looking for a fresh start. The rules have changed, which has affected players like James Harden, Damian Lillard, and Trae Young. Even the culture appears to be changing in Minnesota and Sacramento.

One thing that hasn’t changed since last season is the dominance shown by the Utah Jazz, who once again own the best record in the league. The Jazz entered last night’s contest in Chicago as the last remaining undefeated team, off to their best start since the 2006-07 season when they made it to the Western Conference Finals.

Without Mike Conley once again, Utah suffered their first loss of the season but are still viewed as the team to beat in the West. That was the first game of a back-to-back, as they prepare for the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks tonight.

Not much has changed with this Jazz team since last year, and it shows on the court. The chemistry and experience the players have with one another is something that many of the teams around the league simply do not have yet. Quin Snyder is in his eighth season as the head coach of the Jazz and is widely regarded as one of the brightest minds in the game today.

The Jazz currently rank 2nd in the league in terms of defense, which is a surprise to no one. Their offense has been tremendous as well, as they rank 2nd in offensive rating and 4th in points per game. They continue to build off of last year, with reigning Sixth Man of the Year award winner Jordan Clarkson and runner-up Joe Ingles.

Utah’s offensive prowess is tough to stop, as they can score in a multitude of areas. They continue to be one of the top three-point shooting teams, and Rudy Gobert has been a force at the basket. Donovan Mitchell has evolved into an elite playmaker, either finding the open shooters or finishing himself. He has led the team in assists in every game this season. His ability to let the game come to him is a credit to the evolution of his own game, and the tutelage of Conley.

What really makes the Jazz tough to defend is their balanced attack. Any of their starters could go off on any night, and they have an exceptional bench that can easily pick up the slack. On Thursday night’s game against the Rockets, Utah had seven players score in double figures, but none of them finished with more than 19 points.

Bojan Bogdanovic was the leading scorer in that game but eluded to afterward that it will be different almost every night. “I think every night, it’s going to be a different player playing good basketball, but at the end of the night, as long as we’re getting the win, we’re all going to be happy,” Bogdanovic said.

While most of the roster is unchanged from last season, Dennis Lindsey did make a couple of additions that appear to be perfect fits. In the offseason, Utah completed a trade with the Warriors for Eric Paschall, who reunites with Mitchell, who grew up as close friends. The versatile forward from Villanova gives Utah more depth on their bench and is a solid replacement for Derrick Favors.

The other notable addition is Hassan Whiteside, who has found the perfect team for his playing style. Not only do he and Gobert have a similar build, but they also have essentially the same type of skillset. The two seven-footers give Utah a clear edge on the boards and more than enough rim protection on defense. Gobert leads the league in rebounding right now, and the two have combined to lead the league in blocks three times.

Gobert is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year but has always been prone to foul trouble. That has been the downfall of this team in the past, but they finally have some solid insurance with their backup big man. Whiteside is getting towards the tail end of his career but should he continue to play his role, he has a chance to be a key piece on a championship-contending team.

Depending on who you ask, the West is wide open this year. The Warriors, Nuggets, Clippers, and Mavericks are all missing star players. The Lakers and Trail Blazers have a lot of issues to figure out with their teams over the coming months. The Suns are off to a sluggish start after their trip to the Finals and it is still too early to say that the Timberwolves have turned things around.

If the Jazz can keep it together and get over the mental hurdle in the playoffs, they could very well find themselves back in the Finals for the first time in 24 years. No one can predict who their opponent would be, but the Bucks find themselves in a very similar situation.

Milwaukee has not had much roster turnover and their core group remains intact. The Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo matchup is fascinating as is the idea of Jrue Holiday hounding Mitchell on defense. The sheer firepower of these two offenses and defenses should have the rest of the league shaking in their boots.

The Bucks and Jazz will only face off twice in the regular season, and the other game doesn’t come until March 14. Both teams lost last night, so the motivation to win is already present.

Tomorrow the calendar will flip to November but tonight’s game between these two elite teams could be a very early preview of what is to come in June. Neither team will reveal any tricks on Halloween night, but this game is sure to be a treat.

Source: Basketball Insider

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