Utah at L.A. Clippers
Time: 9:30 PM (CT) ESPN
Game 1 Spread: LAC -6
Game 1 Total: 199
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Utah Jazz finished the season 51-31, which surprised a few league-wide, but it probably should not have. One of the most balanced and well-composed teams, the Jazz have used its defense to carve an abnormal modern NBA attack anchored by potential Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.
Gobert and the Jazz begin its playoff quest as 6-point underdogs on the road at Staples Center as the Clippers host game 1 of the 2017 NBA Western Conference playoffs. The Clippers are 6-point favorites according to NBA oddsmakers at 5dimes.
What makes Utah an interesting team is its balance and depth. The defense the Jazz play and its usual snail-pace tempo should only be to its benefit in the postseason. Utah held opponents to just 96.8 points per game, while scoring a little one 100 itself. The Jazz were also a good, competitive road them, posting a 22-19 mark, a nice addition since Utah will not have homecourt advantage despite finishing with an identical 51-win mark as its opponent the Clippers.
Both teams were the same 29-12 at home, too, so this series really could come down to that crucial tiebreaker and the Clippers having a better series record against Utah straight up this season. The Clippers also ended the season with seven-consecutive wins, heating up at just the right time for what could be Chris Paul and Blake Griffin’s final tour together in Los Angeles.
While Paul seems likely to stay a Clipper, Griffin is going to be pursued heavily in free agency, and there is hardly any guarantee he remains in L.A.
Let us evaluate this series on a matchup basis, looking at the backcourts, frontcourts, and benches.
Backcourt: Chris Paul/J.J. Redick vs. George Hill/Rodney Hood
Chris Paul has those who believe he is the best point guard in NBA history. Advanced metrics certainly support that. However, his loudest detractors point to the fact that “CP3” has never advanced past the second round of the postseason.
Perhaps this is his year to silence that crowd. J.J. Redick just beat his own record for most threes in a season in a Clippers uniform. While George Hill and Rodney Hood have both been very good while healthy, it does not compare to the precision balance of what the Clips have in their backcourt.
Frontcourt: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute/Blake Griffin/DeAndre Jordan vs. Gordon Hayward/Derrick Favors/Rudy Gobert
Gordon Hayward, like Griffin, is also a free agent this upcoming summer. Rudy Gobert is doing everything in his power to keep Hayward in Utah. The former Butler University swingman has evolved into one of the NBA’s most gifted and crafty swingmen, able to create for teammates and certainly worth of the All-Star bid he achieved this season.
The Clippers will counter him with a true lockdown defender in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Griffin is an explosive athlete, but Derrick Favors is an underrated one while healthy, which he finally is. Gobert is the league’s best defensive center, and Jordan will challenge him to definitively claim that crown as a bit of the exact same thing. Neither are dominant offensively, but can change a game on the glass and with their defense: Watching them both attempt to one-up one another in that regard should be entertaining in this series.
Advantage: Jazz, by a hair
Benches: LAC (Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, Marreese Speights, Brandon Bass) vs. UTA (Dante Exum, Alec Burks, Shelvin Mack, Joe Johnson, Joe Ingles, Boris Diaw)
The Jazz happen to have the better answers when it comes to reservers. While the Clippers have explosive scoring former 6th Man of the Year award winner Jamal Crawford, the Jazz can counter with Alec Burks and Joe Johnson, both underrated scorers in the second unit in their own right. Joe Ingles is a sharpshooter, and Boris Diaw is a wizard of a passer. While Austin Rivers and Marreese Speights can also boast of instant offense, the Jazz are better equipped to answer any and all potential second unit disasters with its experienced and well-rounded core.
Overall this is a great series that easily could go seven games, but it seems Utah’s balance, depth and defense give it something that might cause the Clippers quite a few problems. On the other hand, L.A. ended the season scorching, and is an offensively loaded team that may have chosen to save its best playoff performance for what most think may be its final.
While a Game 7 would end up being played in Los Angeles, that only leads to an even bolder conclusion here: Utah in 6.