Utah Jazz: Keys to winning series finale vs Toronto Raptors

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 17: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors looks up against the Detroit Pistons at Air Canada Centre on January 17, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 17: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors looks up against the Detroit Pistons at Air Canada Centre on January 17, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

The Utah Jazz visit the Toronto Raptors to close out a three game road trip after a narrow overtime victory against the Detroit Pistons. Toronto is the second best team at home in the league at 17-3.

The last time the Utah Jazz faced the Toronto Raptors was in early November. At that point, the season was young and as fans we still had high hopes and optimism for what was ahead. Since then, the season has taken a dark turn with injuries, losing streaks, and the chance of a playoff berth dwindling.

The Jazz have only had two overtime games this season and both were victories. The first was against the Portland Trail Blazers, during which Ricky Rubio looked transcendent in a 30-point effort. That was followed in short order by a tough loss to the Raptors.

Going into the series finale with Toronto, the Jazz are once again fresh off of an OT victory. Hopefully, that’s where the parallels stop.

Here are the keys to that happening…

Key No. 1: Forget about the external factors

I’m a little fatigued with writing about how the Jazz need to play with more effort, but it’s the plain truth. Right now, the Jazz have beein stuck in the doldrums. Against the lowliest of the East, the Atlanta Hawks, the Jazz were blown away.

Even in an OT win against the Detroit Pistons (who have struggled mightily of late) didn’t give us a real glimpse of a Jazz team playing at their potential.

DeMar DeRozan Toronto Raptors
CHICAGO, IL – JANUARY 3: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors shoots the ball during the game against the Chicago Bulls on January 3, 2018 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images) /

If the Jazz can forget about the trade rumors, the injury struggles and the future direction of the franchise and simply have fun, I think a win could come more easily than we realize.

Key No. 2 – Make life difficult for DeMar DeRozan

The Utah Jazz (not lately, mind you) have been known for stellar interior defense (Thank you Rudy Gobert and Ekpe Udoh). This elite inside presence also eases the life of perimeter defenders as it allows them to get more aggressive in passing lanes and contesting shots.

This style of play is very effective against the modern teams who shoot a plethora of 3-point shots or at the rim.

Toronto, while taking nearly eight more 3-point shots per game this season than last, still features two of the premier backcourt and frontcourt mid-range players in DeRozan and Serge Ibaka.

23 Seasons Table

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Had Utah been the defensive juggernaut we thought it would be this year, this analogy would be more fitting, but the mid-range game is truly the Kryptonite for the Jazz defense.

In Utah, the Jazz were torched by DeRozan, who scored 37 points.

Key No. 3 – Build chemistry with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert

The first two keys were keys to winning, but I’m not convinced that winning (or losing) games is what matters to this team right now. Each game right now is about doing something better than they did before, particularly for the players who are guaranteed to be here next season such as Mitchell and Gobert.

For this team to succeed next year and beyond, these two must learn to play with chemistry, especially in the pick and roll. They do look to be getting better and I hope to see them focus on this, even through the mistakes.

Next: J-Notes staffers' ideal Jazz trade deadline acquisitions

The Jazz-Raptors game tips-off at 5:30 p.m. MST Friday night.