Thursday night (10pm Eastern; 10pm UK) in Salt Lake City, the Jazz take on the Mavericks – and a 3-2 deficit – in a Game 6 showdown that promises to be a turning point, either for this series, or for this era of Jazz basketball.
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Where to watch Dallas Mavericks at Utah Jazz on TV:
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Dallas Mavericks team news
The entire Mavericks roster deserves a lot of credit for its performance in this series. From the early going, when they were forced to collectively shoulder the massive load usually carried by Luka Doncic, who was sideline with a calf injury , the rest of the team used length and toughness on defense, plus some white hot shooting from Jalen Brunson to keep every game competitive.
At this point, this team recognizes that the Jazz simply do not have the manpower and personnel on defense to consistently get stops – especially when Luka’s in the lineup, and running the pick and roll. Look for the Mavs to give the Jazz steady diet of pick and roll – involving banged-up Donovan Mitchell – with Luka looking to attack the paint for layups and crafty floaters if the defense drops, and finding the likes of Maxi Kleber, Reggie Bullock, Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith for spot-up 3-pointers or on cuts to the basket.
Even before the injury to Mitchell, the Mavs had the best player in the series. That’s not only still the case, but the margin between Luka and Mitchell is greater than before. On top of that, the Mavs have the more confident (and, frankly, just ‘better’) supporting cast, which now knows how exactly to exploit their matchups against Utah.
On the road in a vital Game 6, Dallas will almost assuredly get Utah’s best shot. It’s going to be incumbent on the Mavs role players (basically ‘not Luca and maybe Brunson’) to play a assertively and with confidence and to hit shots (no kidding, right?). Given how difficult Bronson has been to stop in this series, the variety in depth around the rest of the roster, the intelligence with which this team plays, and, well, Luka, you’d bet on them figuring out how to do it.
Mavericks predicted starting lineup: Luka Doncic, Jalen Brunson, Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell
Notable injuries: Tim Hardaway, Jr. (out)
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Utah Jazz team news
Barring a turnaround that, at this point, would frankly stun the basketball world, the Jazz are looking down the barrel of a sixth consecutive season with a regular season win percentage of at least .585 and a top-three seed in West, but also a first- or second-round playoff exit. In some ways, this run, frustrating though can be, is worthy of praise. There aren’t a great many teams that can keep the same core together for a half dozen years, and perform consistently at a high level, despite never breaking through.
At the same time, unless that drastic turnaround comes to pass there’s a feeling of staleness around this team, a sense that whatever it is that this was has run its course.
Now, don’t the existential fears for you. The issue here is not that the Jazz are ‘bad’. This is still a highly talented, deep and experienced team. And, on Thursday night, that team is going to be playing for its playoff life, at home. It’s tough to imagine this not putting forth a strong effort. The problems for this team lie in the unshakable sense that the ultimate shortfall is an inevitability, and that, at some point (which has possibly already come and gone), the familiarity and continuity that’s worked in their favor will turn into contempt.
That’s the big picture. On a micro level, this team needs to improve in two key areas: outside shooting and perimeter defense. In Game 5, though the Mavericks themselves struggled from 3-point range, hitting just 12-of-43 attempts (27.9%), the Jazz were downright atrocious, connecting on just three of 30 attempts from beyond the arc. If we’re being honest, plenty of those shot were perfectly fine. They just didn’t go in. On another day, the Jazz bury 33%-40% of those attempts.
While it’s not guaranteed that the 20-odd points that that positive regression would provide would have won them the game, it certainly would kept things competitive. Unfortunately, the problem with this explanation is, in many ways, is the problem with this team at this point in its cycle. The issues and the solutions are fairly straightforward. In this case the to-do list says ‘make more open/semi-open shots’ and get your best offensive players – Donovan Mitchell (who’s battling a quad injury) and Bojan Bogdanovic – to simply be better than the ghastly 4-for-24 (0-for-12 from 3), two-assist, six-turnover versions of themselves in from Game 5. The problem, of course, is that we’ve been here before – at this point, with this team, at this time of year. We know how this goes..
Jazz predicted starting lineup: Mike Conley Jr., Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale, Rudy Gobert
Notable injuries: Donovan Mitchell (quad; will play); Joe Ingles (out)
Prediction: Dallas Mavericks (-1.5) while scoring at least 107 points (with 10+ assists for Luka Doncic)