Hardly a single Jazz fan could have predicted where the team would be at this point in the season: healthy, but somehow barely at .500 as the league barrels toward playoff time.
The energy in Utah last season was electric as Donovan Mitchell’s arrival, Rudy Gobert’s defensive dominance, and Joe Ingles’s sharpshooting sent a shockwave through the state, and Jazz fans stepped into the 2018-2019 season with a confidence in the franchise not seen since the late 90s.
Well, things haven’t quite panned out the way Utah hoped, and the same team that gave the 2017-2018 Houston Rockets a run for their money is now crawling, haggard, toward maybe an eighth-seed. Frustration on the court has been palpable–and sometimes visible. Go-to players Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio and Rudy Gobert have struggled with consistency (and the emotions that come with not having it) as they adjust to having a target on their backs. Last season they were the underdog. This season, everybody has their number.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a Shoo-in for MVP
The Jazz are coming off of some (much needed) back-to-back wins, but tonight will face the steepest test they’ve seen since their narrow loss to the Toronto Raptors three games ago.
The Milwaukee Bucks are No. 1 in the NBA’s power rankings, and it’s deserved. They have a strong candidate for MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo–who, besides having the most uniquely basketball-suited body maybe ever, has recently added a three-point shot to his repertoire. Now that he can reasonably shot-fake at the three and finish with one of his unstoppable drives, he’s gone from one of the scariest players in the league to an absolute terror. He’s averaging 26.5 points per game and put up 43 against the Raptors on Saturday. Besides that, he’s a monster on the boards and grabs nearly 13 rebounds per game.
Stopping Giannis at the rim is no small task, though having Rudy Gobert certainly helps. But Giannis’s raw power far outweighs Gobert’s sometimes-unbalanced presence, and the Jazz will do their best to keep him as far away from the rim as possible, as often as possible.
This will be the two teams’ first time playing each other this season, so nobody has had time to experiment quite yet, strategy-wise. Stifling Giannis is the obvious goal, though. He could probably defeat some certain teams all by himself.
The Jazz are Looking to Extend Their Fragile Streak
It’s small, but the Jazz are nursing a two-game win streak at the moment. Facing a team like the Bucks is no guarantee to keep that going, but the team’s strong showings against the Raptors and Pistons recently are promising.
Donovan Mitchell seems to have finally gained some consistency, and he has a fire in him not always seen. He’s usually pretty mild-mannered, but he was caught talking plenty of trash in the team’s win in Detroit.
Mitchell is averaging 20.2 points per game, which he’ll need to meet or exceed on a nightly basis if the Jazz want to climb the rankings and make the playoffs. They’re currently at 9th in the Western Conference, so every game counts as they hope to reach a high enough point to allow for some setbacks later on.
Tonight’s game against the Bucks could be make or break–it’ll either be a massive statement as they knock off the No. 1 team in the league, or it’ll be a crushing loss as their small streak is snapped and they’re once again walking against the wind.