Utah Jazz vs. L.A. Clippers Series Analysis
By Eric Uribe
If you’re looking for the most exciting first-round playoff series, this one might be your pick. Historically, the fourth versus fifth seed matchup rarely disappoints and this one likely won’t be an exception. Los Angeles (51-31) enter as -245 favorites to take the series — the second slimmest odds of the opening round. Meanwhile, a Utah (51-31) upset nets you +205 odds.
Both teams play polar opposite styles on the court. The Clippers are nicknamed “Lob City” for a reason as their run-and-go pace is prone to offensive outbursts and tired opponents. Utah, making their first playoff appearance in five years, likes to slow the pace down and pick apart defenses with precision passing.
Los Angeles ranks sixth in the league in scoring at 108.7 points a game, whereas Utah is all the way down at 28th with 100.7. But make no mistake about it, defense got the Jazz this far — but not just any defense, the NBA’s best.
Opponents averaged a mere 96.8 points against Utah. To put the number in perspective, only one other team in the league held opponents under 100 points a game. Does the old saying, “defense wins championships” hold up in today’s three-point-shooting happy NBA? I guess we’ll find out.
The Jazz have already proven they can slow down the Clippers. In four regular season meetings, Lob City was held to 98 points a game. In spite of this, Los Angeles won three of the matchups — all by double digits. The question going forward is whether Utah have enough offensive firepower to get by? After all, they averaged just 89 points in those four games.
You can count on Jazz forward Gordon Hayward to bring an offensive spark. He made his first trip to the All-Star game after averaging 21.9 points a game. Hayward is a free agent at year’s end, so you know he’s motivated. But after him? There’s a lot of variables and not a whole lot of consistency.
Utah has a true big man down low in Rudy Gobert, who gives them second-chance opportunities consistently and an ideal player to run pick-and-rolls with. However, Utah’s snail-like pace is maddening at times. Between turnovers and ill-advised shots with the clock winding down, it adds up to an inefficient attack.
The Clippers have their Gobert clone in DeAndre Jordan. The clash between Jordan and Gobert may be the playoffs best, aside from Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden. When we say it’s going to be a slugfest between the two bigs, that might be an understatement.
The back-and-forth pick-and-roll battles in this series will have basketball junkies salivating. The difference here will be the man running the attacks. For LA, few players have as much command of the scheme as Chris Paul. George Hill is no slouch, but Paul is a superstar. And after missing 21 games during the season, Paul appears to finally be healthy.
It’s important to weigh recent play, too.The Clippers are perhaps the league’s hottest team, winners of 11 of their last 13. Much of their struggles this year have come without Paul and Blake Griffin in the lineup. The two missed a combined 42 games, as LA went 19-23 in their absence.
The hot streak was enough to overtake Utah, who went 8-5 in that same span, for the fourth seed and home-court advantage in this series.
We expect this series to go the full seven. For all of the Clipper star power, their history of early playoffs exit is worrying. The Jazz are building a contender, but their lack of big-game experience will leave them empty-handed this year as Los Angeles pulls out a thriller.
Pick: Clippers (-245)
Series outcome: Seven games
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