The Utah Jazz will be in for a much tougher task in their home opener than in Wednesday’s contest. Can they step up and topple the Golden State Warriors?
The Utah Jazz may have won their 2018-19 regular season debut against the Sacramento Kings, but I wouldn’t say it exactly went as well as they might have hoped. The Jazz trailed by as many as 16 early, and were fortunate to come back and win by six. Even then, a six-point win over the lowly Kings in a pretty sloppy game wasn’t exactly the best look for the Jazz.
Therefore, hopes will be high that they can bounce back and perform much better in Utah’s home opener on Friday night in a bout that will be nationally televised on ESPN. Unfortunately, the time for rehearsals and do-overs is over, as the Jazz will be facing none other than the reigning NBA Champion Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors snoozed their way through preseason, going just 1-4, but looked a lot sharper in their season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Yet, despite the fact that the Thunder were without Russell Westbrook, the squad led by Paul George put up a nice fight. Still, ultimately Golden State was able to come out on top.
And regardless of any early-season rust or jitters, the Warriors remain the most talented team in the league, so rest assured that they’ll be ready to present a challenge for the Jazz. Thus, therein lies the question, how can the Utah Jazz stop the Golden State Warriors?
Fortunately, they have the blueprint from a year ago as the Jazz beat Golden State three times in the regular season – the only team to do so. In those games, Utah used a prolific offense and bullying defense to shut the Warriors down while taking charge in nearly every facet. They did a great job of slowing Golden State’s stars to ultimately arise victorious in dominant fashion.
But a new season brings about new challenges, and this early in the year, you can bet that the Warriors will still be motivated and ready to make a statement. I also think they’ll be aiming to take revenge on the team that beat up on them in the regular season last year and that they easily bounced in the playoffs two seasons ago.
If Utah plays like they did against Sacramento, they’re pretty much toast against the elite Warriors. However, if they can learn from those mistakes and instead play more like they did last year against Golden State, they could very well bounce back from an ugly game one and take their home opener in convincing fashion.
In order to defeat the Warriors, there’s a few things in particular the Jazz are going to need to do. First, we all know that when you play Golden State, you have to pick your poison. It’s almost a guarantee that between four All-Stars – Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green – at least one of them is going to go off for a big night.
However, if the Jazz slow down at least two or three of the four, which they did consistently last season (and, yes, injuries to Golden State helped), then I really like their chances. From there, if Utah can contain the Warrior stars, then Utah’s bench needs to continue to dominate.
Golden State has the best starting lineup in the NBA and they’re admittedly quite deep, however, I believe Utah’s reserve unit does have the edge, especially based on what we’ve seen in preseason and in the first game of the regular season thus far. Utah’s starters will need to play significantly better than they did in Sacramento, but if they can keep it close, then I’m fully confident that the solid reserves will have the firepower to hold Golden State’s bench at bay.
From there, Utah also needs to cut down big-time on the turnovers. I’ve been harping on this all throughout the preseason, and the Jazz giveaway woes continued in Sacramento as they coughed it up a whopping 17 times. It’s possible to bounce back from that against a lackluster team like the Kings where there’s a large margin of error. But against a team like the Warriors, the margin of error is paper thin.
The Warriors thrive on easy opportunities, especially in the fast break, and can turn a turnover or two into a momentum-changing run in the blink of an eye. Turnovers were a big issue for the Jazz last season and have plagued them so far this year. If that keeps up, Golden State may very well blow them out of the water.
Last of all, the 3-point battle will be key. In Utah’s three wins over the Warriors last season, they shot an impressive 42.9 percent from deep while Golden State shot a pathetic 27.1 percent. Admittedly, especially in Utah’s mind-blowing 30-point win last season when they beat the Warriors while the roster was fully healthy, the Jazz had an unbelievable hot hand.
Then again, beating Golden State at any time takes a fair amount of luck, so the Jazz will need fortune to be on their side once again as it relates to their 3-point shooting. Utah has shown that they’re more than capable of converting from deep, especially with sharpshooter Joe Ingles in their ranks, and they’ll need to do it in force to arise victorious on Friday.
In short, shutting down at least two or three of Golden State’s stars, winning the battle of the bench, eliminating turnovers and dominating the battle of the perimeter shot will all be keys for the Jazz toppling the defending champs. Of course, that’s much easier said than done when dealing with the Warriors, but Utah proved to be up to the task last season even in unexpected situations, so they shouldn’t be counted out this time around.
It will be a challenge, to be sure, but the Jazz are certainly capable. However, given how poorly Utah played on Wednesday and how motivated the Warriors ought to be while the season is still young, I’m pinning Golden State to come out on top by a narrow margin.
Prediction – Warriors 107, Jazz 102
Regardless of the outcome of the Utah Jazz home opener, this will be a great test and an informative measuring stick that could very well help set the tone for the remainder of the season be it due to a statement win or a loss that creates a massive chip on the shoulder of this Jazz team. Utah and Golden State tip-off at 8:30 PM MT on Friday on ESPN.