The New Orleans Pelicans (11-10) kick off an important two-game road trip out West with a meeting against the Utah Jazz (11-11) in the first matchup. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. on Friday night and you can catch the action live on Fox Sports New Orleans or WRNO 99.5 FM.
Twenty days ago, the Jazz suffered two losses on the same day — although they were not aware of it immediately. Utah fell to the Miami Heat by a 84-74 margin, and Rudy Gobert sustained a knee injury during a third quarter mishap with Dion Waiters. Despite returning to the court and finishing that game, news came two days later that Gobert would miss the next 4-6 weeks due to a bone bruise stemming from the incident.
With Gordon Hayward and George Hill leaving during the last offseason and Dante Exum yet to play a single minute of this regular season, many expected the loss of Gobert to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. After all, Utah was 5-7 with the 2017 All-NBA Second Team member. Without him, they were certain dog meat, right?
“I try not to know anybody’s record right now,” Head Coach Quinn Snyder said prior to Thursday’s matchup with the Clippers. But “I think there was a sense when Rudy [Gobert] went out that the wheels would come off.”
Since losing their defensive gem in the middle, the Jazz have gone 6-4 and currently sit eighth in the Western Conference.
Snyder has kept the Jazz afloat by shifting Derrick Favors to center and placing a lot of trust in Donovan Mitchell, a rookie out of the University of Louisville. Those two players and Rodney Hood have formed a temporary yet very much unheralded big three in Utah, combining for an average of 55 points on solid shooting percentages during Gobert’s absence.
Despite the fact the Jazz will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back and Joe Johnson, Raul Neto and Hood were out against the Clippers, the Pelicans should expect a first class effort from the remaining healthy troops, who play very well together as a unit, in Utah.
Three Keys to Victory
Use previous loss with extenuating circumstances as motivation. After getting blown out by the Nuggets and losing Anthony Davis to a concussion-related injury, the Pelicans bounced back in a big way against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Following a seriously disappointing loss to the Timberwolves on Wednesday, which included Davis being limited to 18 minutes after getting ejected for the first time in his career, New Orleans must summon the inspiration to find the win column.
E’Twaun Moore and Jrue Holiday need to be aggressors. In watching a very short-handed Clippers squad play the Jazz, Austin Rivers and Lou Williams enjoyed a good deal of success. Utah is a good defensive squad overall, but dribble penetration by quick or shifty perimeter players seem to give the Jazz some trouble. Moore and Holiday have had their moments together; it’s time for another positive outing.
Don’t let Utah seek out three-pointers. Over their last four games — all wins, the Jazz have actively sought out the three-point shot with a high degree of success. Be aware of Joe Ingles and Rodney Hood (if he plays) at all times on the perimeter and don’t let Alec Burks, Jonas Jerebko, Ricky Rubio and Mitchell find early rhythms. Force the Utah shooters to put the ball on the floor and trust DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis to protect the rim.
What: New Orleans Pelicans at Utah Jazz
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena
When: December 1, 2017, 8:00 p.m. Central
How: FSNO, WRNO 99.5 FM