New Orleans at Utah
Time: 9:30 PM CT (TNT)
Spread: UTA -7.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The New Orleans Pelicans have heated up as winners of six of its past 10, but it likely will be too little, too late, with regards to the Pels breaking into the 2017 postseason.
New Orleans still trails No. 8 Portland/Denver (who are tied) by four games with just nine regular season contests remaining. Even if the Pelicans go 9-0, the odds are still not that favorable. Nevertheless, Anthony Davis and company will travel to Utah to face the Jazz, who recently clinched a playoff berth and currently reside at the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference. Utah is 24-12 at home this season and will be 7.5 point favorites in the game.
The Jazz are tuning up for the playoffs in what has been an impressive season for Jazz faithful. Utah has lost four of its past five, however, so tonight represents a chance for the team to get back on track as the season winds down. Utah most recently fell 108-95 to the L.A. Clippers, and it went 0-3 on its most recent Eastern Conference road trip. That is not to deride the overwhelming success this season has been for Utah. The Jazz are 44-29, and still have a shot (by winning 6 of 7) at winning fifty games this season.
One of the primary reasons behind the success is 2017 Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert.
Gobert has become the rim protector to anchor Utah’s aggressive and stifling defensive attack. In an era which sees so few teams bearing down on the defensive end, Utah has done just that, and built a formidable attack that should render it a tough bounce for any opponent in the 2017 playoffs.
Rudy Gobert averages 2.61 blocks per game, in addition to 0.65 steals, while also grabbing 12.8 rebounds (4.0 offensive) per game. He averages just 13.7 points per game, but his offensive game is growing, howsoever limited it still is. That is no matter: Gordon Hayward is the offensive cog that gives Utah its punch, and the free agent to-be is averaging 21.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game while playing 34.5 minutes per contest.
It is absolutely vital Utah retains his services this offseason as a free agent (but they probably will). George Hill has also been a major blessing to the backcourt, while healthy. Though Hill has appeared in just 46 games this season, he has averaged 17 points and four assists per game while posting a PER of 18.8.
Between Hill, Hayward and Gobert, the Jazz have something of a “Big Three,” even if it is not one loaded with tons of offensive firepower. Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors provide additional scoring punch, and the Jazz have plenty of depth to go with veteran leadership. While many figured this franchise would have it struggles coming out of the Paul Millsap/Al Jefferson era, those struggles were very short-lived with Utah now again rounding into something close to a contending team.
Even Joe Ingles and Dante Exum have served their purpose as role players, and Boris Diaw, too, will probably prove even more crucial in the playoffs. Doubly apply that Joe Johnson. Utah just has the right mix of youth, defense, talented and leadership to be a very good team—which they have been. But a win tonight would go a long way towards restoring the morale of the team, given its recent struggles.
The Pelicans still are searching for answers as to how it can best utilize the twin tower lineup of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. Cousins has flourished as a Pelican, but New Orleans’ defense has struggled and the roster is entirely bereft of depth and talent outside of that pairing and one-time All-Star Jrue Holiday.
Holiday will be a free agent this offseason, too, which places New Orleans in a tricky spot given that he will command upwards of $15 million per season. The Pelicans have a bevy of team needs that cannot be all satisfied through a draft which will likely see them surrender their pick (unless it is in the top-3) to the Sacramento Kings to fulfill the trade that brought New Orleans DeMarcus Cousins.
While that pick and youngster Buddy Hield were not much to surrender for a player of Cousins’ caliber, it did take two shooters off the Pelicans roster (Langston Galloway being the other), and court spacing has been a persistent problem.
Ideally, this offseason the Pelicans would like to add a few wing players who are interchangeable, position-wise, which could then enable the team to run its offense through Cousins and Davis, while also being adaptable to switching on the defensive end.
The model of success is perhaps abnormal given this era of the run and gun triple, but it is by no means out of consideration that New Orleans “Zag” to the league’s “Zig” produces favorable results with the right roster tinkering this offseason. For this year, it will take a minor miracle for the Pelicans to sneak into the postseason, but they are just two seasons removed from such occurring, if one remembers that New Orleans got into the 2015 playoffs by knocking off the Oklahoma City Thunder on the final night of the season.