The Big Picture: The Utah Jazz are 28-20, but they've won only once in their past eight games, and they got smoked by the Warriors last night, 96-81, despite holding Monta Ellis to 1-9 shooting. Of course, Deron Williams was out, leaving Earl Watson to play 35 minutes. Yikes. Tonight, Williams is likely to be back, bringing Utah back to full strength, and allowing Jerry Sloan to do what he does.
If there's any coach that's still underappreciated by casual fans, it might be Sloan, who, by my estimation, has a great argument for being one of the top five NBA coaches of all time. Just like Red Auerbach and Phil Jackson, Sloan has a distinct philosophy of style (flex offense), but he's exceptionally accommodating, molding his offensive and defensive systems' principles to fit the wide variety of players on hand at any given moment.
This year, the Jazz are successful, if not full-blown title contenders, thanks to Williams's top-notch production, and they'll likely make the Western Conference playoffs, even if Al Jefferson continues to take way more shots than he should.
Musical Interlude: Weezer -- "Perfect Situation"
Key to Victory: Besides Raja Bell, the Jazz deploy wings that are similarly swingy between traditional SG/SF roles the way that Stephen Jackson is, so Jax's primary advantage in most games, his length and relative bulk, won't be in play tonight. If Bell gets big minutes, there's a chance Jax lights him up, but more likely, Bell has enough left in the tank to keep Jax in check.
Andrei Kirilenko is taller, Russian, less reckless, but still strangely similar stylistically to Gerald Wallace. Where AK-47 used to gel his hair in spikes, now he wears it in a vaguely Davy Jones-esque mop in what might be a desperate attempt to recapture past greatness. But it's not 2004 anymore, and Kirilenko's hair has only improved his three-point shot, and not much else. Whether Crash guards him, or Boris Diaw guards him, Kirilenko will probably be good for only three or four supremely annoying baskets.
Which leaves the bigs and the points. I have no idea how D.J. Augustin is going to play. I expect his offense to be anywhere from bland to revelatory, but I have only non-zero confidence in his defense against Williams, who is big enough to back down the Baron Davises of the world, and so should be able to manhandle D.J. at opportune moments.
As for the bigs, at first glance, it looks like the Cats are in trouble. However, even though Mehmet Okur scares me because I adore bigs who can shoot the three, he's been having a tough time coming off injury. Paul Millsap is a rebounding beast who might give Diaw trouble on both ends of the floor, but I can also see Monsieur Nonchalant getting in his head with several well-timed spins and up-and-under scoops. Finally, Jefferson, noted before as an offense-slowing black hole in the post, is probably the team's most effective shot blocker, and there's a reason he's been coveted as a post presence by three different teams now (take that as you will), but as skilled as he is, Kwame Brown has looked more and more like a dude whose once-elite athleticism has left him, but now is armed with wily veteran-ness to go with now-average sheer athleticism, which makes for... a solid, acceptable veteran; it's hardly a mismatch between Jefferson and Brown.
Detail That May Interest .08% of You: I may or may not be associated with the dudes who set up I Dare You To Give Me A Dollar.