It is, perhaps, a less-than-ideal situation that, in their season debut Thursday night, the Utah Jazz struggled mightily to vanquish a Sacramento team that has not qualified for the NBA Playoffs since the 2005-06 season.
Fortunately, however, the Jazz should have every opportunity to put on a more dominant display in the follow-up, considering Friday’s nationally-televised home opener at Vivint Smart Home Arena comes against an apparently middling opponent that Utah absolutely owned a season ago — the Golden State Warriors.
The Jazz won three of the teams’ four matchups last year, and prevailed in those victories by 30, 19, and 40 points, respectively, did they not?
So then, it’s settled — Friday’s affair is bound to be a cakewalk.
Maybe. And maybe not in a good way.
Turns out, the Warriors are actually pretty good — at least, if you put much stock in winning back-to-back championships, and three of the past four, for that matter.
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey, for one, apparently gives more credence to the Warriors’ title pedigree and All-Star-laden roster than to the 2017-18 regular-season results, anyway.
“As for Golden State … we can’t do anything about Kevin Durant and Steph Curry other than compete great, be great defensively, be very unselfish offensively, and then grow each player’s individual skills,” he said. “And then hopefully the collective will be a little bit better than the 16th-overall-rated team offensively from last year.”
Oh, that’s right — the Warriors have Kevin Durant, a one-time Most Valuable Player, a two-time Finals MVP, a four-time scoring champion, an eight-time All-NBA selection, and a nine-time All-Star. Curry, meanwhile, is a two-time MVP, a five-time All-Star, a five-time All-NBA honoree, a former scoring champ, and the single-season record-holder for 3-pointers made.
Beyond that, the Warriors don’t really have much, though — just Draymond Green, who’s only a three-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA honoree and former Defensive Player of the Year; and Klay Thompson, a mere four-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA selection, and the first player in NBA history to score 60 points in less than 30 minutes of game time.
Derrick Favors acknowledged in a radio interview on Thursday that the Jazz know what they’re up against.
“They’re the world champions, you know, two, three times,” he told 1280 The Zone. “They’re obviously a much better-accomplished team than we are.”
OK, so how exactly did the Jazz beat this team three times last year?
Actually, looking back, it’s difficult to tell what, if anything, those results mean, considering only one game of the four featured both teams at something close to full strength.
The teams’ first meeting of the season, on Dec. 27 in Oakland, came during the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert-less early funk, and proved to be the Warriors’ only win, as they overcame not having Curry to beat Utah 126-101. Rodney Hood scored 26 for the Jazz, who could not sustain a strong start.
In Game 2, on Jan. 30 in Salt Lake City, Utah responded, getting 23 points and 11 assists from Ricky Rubio, 18 points and 10 rebounds from Derrick Favors, and 20 points apiece from Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles for a 129-99 win. The Jazz shot 58 percent from the field and 50 percent on 3s. Golden State, which had all four of its All-Stars playing, made just 5 of 25 tries from 3-point range.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr was fuming about the ease of the Jazz’s win afterward.
“I think our guys will tell you that was a pathetic effort out there. That was disgusting basketball,” he told reporters. “… I saw one team get their ass kicked. That's what I saw."
By their third meeting, in Oracle Arena on March 25, the Jazz had turned their season around and were in the midst of their brilliant stretch run. Utah saw seven players score in double-figures, led by Mitchell’s 21, while Gobert contributed 17 points, 15 rebounds, and four blocks. Counterintuitively, despite the Warriors not playing Curry, Durant, Thompson, or Green, the 110-91 result was the teams’ closest of the season.
Conversely, the April 10 matchup at The Viv, in Utah’s penultimate game of the regular season, proved the biggest blowout. The Warriors were again missing Curry, and hit just .349 from the field and .263 (5 for 19) from deep. The Jazz, meanwhile, shot .533 from the field, .371 from deep (13 for 35), led by 17 after one quarter, by 29 at halftime, and cruised to a 119-79 beatdown.
So, what does any of it mean? Who knows?
Like the Jazz, Golden State was hardly sharp in its season-opening 108-100 victory over the Thunder, which had Kerr saying afterward, “We didn’t look much like ourselves. It’s not surprising either. We need a couple more weeks.”
Gobert, asked after Wednesday’s victory in Sacramento what it would be like going from playing the Kings to playing the Warriors, gave a typically stoic response.
“It’s a different team — different game, different [style of] play, so we have to get home and start getting ready for them,” he said.
Favors, meanwhile, told The Zone that even should the Jazz prevail on Friday, he doesn’t know if that will mean anything, either.
“It’s a long season,” he noted. “We can beat them and still not win a championship, or we can lose to them and [still] be right there at the end.”
JAZZ VS. WARRIORS
At Vivint Smart Home Arena
Tipoff • Friday, 8:30 p.m. MT
TV • ESPN, ATTSN
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 1-0; Warriors 1-0
Last meeting • Jazz 119, Warriors 79 (April 10)
About the Jazz • Opened their regular season on Wednesday with a 123-117 victory in Sacramento. … Donovan Mitchell scored a team-high 24 points, but on just 8-for-21 shooting. Joe Ingles added 22 points and six assists, and went 9 for 12 from the field. … Utah won three of its four matchups last season against Golden State. … Forward Thabo Sefolosha will serve the second game of a five-game suspension.
About the Warriors • Golden State beat the Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder 108-100 to open its season on Tuesday. … Steph Curry led the team with 32 points (on 11-for-20 shooting), nine assists and eight rebounds. … They made just 7 of 26 tries from deep, with Klay Thompson going 1 for 8. … Key bench player Andre Iguodala, who was limited to just 10 minutes vs. OKC due to left calf tightness, did not practice Thursday and is questionable to play vs. the Jazz.