The Utah Jazz started the season 1-14, but teams that don’t respect them have left Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City with an ‘L’ since rookie point guard Trey Burke returned from injury. The surging Raptors cannot afford to make that mistake.
The Jazz let veterans Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Randy Foye and Mo Williams escape this past summer to create playing time for Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Burke, so the brutal start really didn’t surprise anyone. Head Coach Tyrone Corbin addressed the question, ‘Are the Utah Jazz too young to win?’ earlier in the season.
“They are young and some are growing into the position that they are in,” Corbin said. “I have said to the guys and I’ll continue to say it, we just have to work our way through this. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. This will show a lot about who we are and who you are. How you fight through adversity. How do you come back and compete after getting your butt kicked a little bit the night before. We have to continue to learn those lessons now so we don’t have to get them later on.”
With the addition of Burke, the second last place 16-31 place Jazz have gone 15-20 and are a respectable 9-8 at home. The highlight of their season was a 112-101 victory over the Thunder and a 48 point explosion from Kevin Durant on January 7th.
Burke has averaged 12.9 points and 5.7 assists and despite the expected rookie ups and downs, he has impressed with his ability to run the team. Burke has been invited to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend and is one of the top rookies in his class. (Check out our current Rookie Rankings)
23-year-old Gordon Hayward leads the team in scoring with 16.9 points per game, however, the Jazz has 6 players averaging in double-digits and 4 of them are younger than Hayward. The Jazz focus is on development and by winning their share of games at home, they are maintaining a better environment and identity than rebuilding teams that just lose to anyone everywhere.
On the injury front, Derrick Favors has missed 2 consecutive games with a sore right hip, but he warmed up for his last game before being scratched. He could be available to play on Monday. Favors is averaging 13.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and steal per game. In a bad fall on Friday, Jeremy Evans bruised his tailbone and elbow against the Warriors and didn’t play on Saturday. Evans has averaged 7.1 points and 5.3 rebounds off the bench.
This is the middle of a 5 game Western Conference road trip for the 25-22 Raptors in which they defeated the Nuggets 100-90 on Friday and lost 106-103 to the Trail Blazers the next night. DeMar DeRozan, fresh off learning he was an All-Star for the first time, scored 30 points and handed out 10 dimes in the second half of the game in Portland, a feat that hasn’t been accomplish by anyone else in the past decade.
Point guard Kyle Lowry has every right to feel snubbed by the All-Star selection process. He has been one of the best point guards in the Eastern Conference this season. Lowry has been all business all year, Burke should expect to be in for a long night.
The Raptors are much better than their record. After a 6-12 start, Toronto traded Rudy Gay to Sacramento and has gone 19-10 since. Their record against the Western Conference is 8-10 and that includes road wins over the Thunder and Dallas.
As long as Toronto respects their opponent, there is no reason they will not be leaving Salt Lake City with a win. The Jazz aren’t expecting anyone to feel sorry for them.
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“I am not athletic like they are,” Valanciunas said. “I am not that athletic. I have to use my other weapons – timing, reading the game. The stuff under the basket when I am circling around trying to find an empty spot – that works, so I got to keep doing that. That is something you have all your life, if you have that.”
After a very quiet 6 points in the first half, DeRozan scored 30 points and collected 10 dimes in the second half as he set a career-high with 12 assists in the game. DeRozan was the Raptors offense in the second half. According to Elias, ‘DeRozan is the only player in the last 10 seasons with 30 points and 10 assists in a half.’