Happy Holidays Raptors fans!
As the eggnog flows through your veins (maybe with a little rum, eh? What the hell, you’ve earned it, you old pirate!,) or you rush to hospital to get emergency treatment for all your present-wrapping related paper cuts, or perhaps you simply sit at home in the ever-loving darkness, waiting for this annual madness — in which you want and have no part — to end, it’s important to remember that there’s a basketball game tonight. One that should be damn fine in fact.
Two of the weirdest named teams in professional sports are set to do battle in Salt Lake City, perhaps the most literally named of all major American cities. There will be salt and a lake and almost certainly no jazz at all. Luckily, both teams are quite good!
Here are your keys to the game.
Of course we mean ‘to do something consciously and intentionally’ as opposed to ‘engage in long and careful consideration’ but the rhyme was too good to pass up.
The Raps and Jazz both like to play in the half court. Toronto is playing slower this year than in the recent past at 97.1 possessions per game, but Jazz are practically in molasses at 93.14, the second slowest mark in the league. This is not going to be the Run TMC Warriors vs the 7 Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns. Both teams will try to dictate pace, so despite the Raptors offensive prowess over the past month, we might see a more low scoring affair than we’re used to.
Hey, I’m Open, I’m Op — Good Shot!
The Jazz and Raptors similarities continue when it comes to moving the ball.
Toronto ranks 26th in assists per game and the Jazz 28th. If you think that’s just a pace thing, it’s not — they’re 28th and 29th in assist percentage respectively. However, Toronto is third in screen assists and the Jazz sixth. Expect to see a heck of a lot of pick and roll action tonight.
The Jazz currently allow the lowest opponents field goal percentage in the league (42.9 percent). They do a very good job limiting three point attempts (22.5, also lowest in the NBA) though teams do hit at a 35.9 percent when they get them, which is a bottom-10 rank. If Toronto can get the looks, they might be able to shoot their way to victory.
In any case, Toronto currently has the leagues highest offensive rating (115.2 per 100 possessions). Rock, meet hard place! The Jazz use their towering centre Rudy Gobert to limit points in the paint (ninth on the season) and the return of Derrick Favors, even in a 15-20 minute role, has made them even more intimidating inside.
Both teams do a good job taking care of the ball and getting back in transition — Toronto is 29th and the Jazz 30th in Opponent Fast Break points per game.
Given all these carefully analyzed factors, I project a 148-145 Raptors win, with 60 combined turnovers and an ending wherein the Jazz fans feel obligated to storm the court and chant ‘USA! USA!’. A real NBA Christmas miracle.
Enjoy the holidays everybody. Don’t pull a Skeets and drink too much nog.