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2021 NBA Playoffs: West Conference Semifinals – (1) Utah Jazz vs (4) Los Angeles Clippers

West Conference Semifinals: ((1) Utah Jazz vs (4) Los Angeles Clippers – Series preview

(1) Utah Jazz

One of the most promising things about the first round for the Jazz is that they saw Donovan Mitchell return in Game 2. After losing Game 1 and some discrepancies on whether or not Mitchell was ready for that game there wasn’t any questioning his health after Game 2. Call it the old gentleman’s sweep, the Jazz wrapped up the series 4-1 against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Utah arguably won this series by hitting the three-point shot consistently as they made 16.8 three-point field goals in five games against Memphis. When the Grizzlies only hit 10.4 three-point field goals in the five games that’s at most 48 points of a difference in scoring that favors Utah. We get it the Jazz take a lot of threes and make a lot of threes! But the Grizzlies lost each game by an average margin of 9.6 points. Memphis truly held their own and just couldn’t compensate for the Jazz’s offensive shooting from the deep ball.

Up next is the bigger challenge defensively against two All-Stars in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Is the Jazz the best defensive team? I think questions could be answered as their perimeter defense will have to prove that the big man in the middle, Rudy Gobert, isn’t overwhelmed at the basket (or ending up in foul trouble).

(4) Los Angeles Clippers

It seems that the Clippers are just truly the NBA’s roller coaster of emotions of a team. First, they lose the first two home games of the 2021 Playoffs to the Dallas Mavericks (and mostly due to Luka Dončić). The questioning on if this team is worth even considering to win this series, followed by Kawhi Leonard in a Miami Heat jersey photoshop, and well Wayoff P is back? But hold the phone, after each team didn’t win a home game until Game 7 that was the true deciding factor in that series.

So, the Mavericks have a guy but also so do the Clippers. Kawhi Leonard entered the chat in Game 6 and 7 facing elimination. Leonard averaged 36.5 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and shooting the ball 70-percent from the field! Sheesh! Kawhi clearly said I am the best player in this series and I will show you why. The 45 points in Game 6 came down to The Klaw putting away the game with a 5-of-5 effort in the 4th quarter and two big three-point shots in the last 3 minutes.

Paul George is a little overshadowed by Leonard’s heroics in the last two games of the last series. However, can he finally earn the name Playoff P? 23.6 points, 9 rebounds, and 5.7 assists isn’t a bad way to backup Kawhi Leonard at all. George is clearly right behind his right-hand man. The Clippers next best effort against Dallas was Reggie Jackson averaging 15.4 points per game.

Top players to watch

Donovan Mitchell – First Round vs Memphis

  • 28.5 PPG
  • 3.0 RPG
  • 5.8 APG

Kawhi Leonard – First Round vs Dallas

  • 33.0 PPG
  • 7.9 RPG
  • 4.6 APG

Where should the money go?

I know you’re awaiting my prediction right? I gotta be honest as the most objective basketball analyzer in the world. I’m rolling with faith in Kawhi Leonard this series. Partially, the Clippers are the most battle-tested and coming into this series with greater confidence. Again, another young guard in the Western Conference is across the court in Donovan Mitchell and I’m sure Kawhi Leonard make take offense should Mitchell start to outplay him.

The Clippers will have the same issues as Memphis. Don’t try to outscore Utah, try to stop them from shooting the three-point ball. In their five games against the Grizzlies, the Jazz shot 207 three-point field goals. The Clippers attempted 252 in SEVEN GAMES. At this rate, the Jazz would pace to take 300 three-point field goals in a series if it played out to a Game 7.

I know the new thing is to show some love to the next generation of stars. They’ve arrived like a Donovan Michell. However, the Clippers proved with Dončić that they are still the better team with a better roster. Los Angeles will still need assistance from Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris defensively as well. We know that the Jazz has the Sixth Man of the Year, Jordan Clarkson. To combat him will be Terance Mann, who had his best game of the series in Game 7 against Dallas. Mann scored 13 points on 50-percent shooting.

I will still commit my trust in the veterans like Leonard and George at this point. Clippers in 6 games.

Schedule and Results

Game

Away

Home

Date

Time

TV

Results

Game 1:
UTA leads series 1-0

6/08

10:00 PM ET

TNT

Clippers - 109
Jazz - 112

Game 2:
UTA leads series 2-0

6/10

10:00 PM ET

ESPN

Clippers -111 Jazz - 117

Game 3

6/12

8:30 PM ET

ABC

Game 4

6/14

10:00 PM ET

TNT

Game 5:
If Necessary

6/16

TBD

TBD

Game 6:

If Necessary

6/18

TBD

TBD

Game 7:

If Necessary

6/20

TBD

TBD

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2021 NBA Playoffs: West First Round – (1) Utah Jazz vs (8) Memphis Grizzlies

Where should the money go

West First Round – (1) Utah Jazz vs (8) Memphis Grizzlies – Series preview

(1) Utah Jazz

The BEST team in the NBA at least according to the season standings. The Jazz is a team that has completely not left off from their bubble run. Last year’s West First Round saw them losing a very close Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets. Enter in this season and Rudy Gobert is still a Defensive Player of the Year award candidate and Quin Snyder should be Coach of the Year depending on who you talk to.

They also have potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jordan Clarkson who averaged 18.4 points per game in the regular season. This came as the primary first man off the bench for the Jazz and an added scorer next to Donovan Mitchell.

Mitchell’s game to me hasn’t taken any kind of extreme improvement and you can tell on paper. However, the best thing is he’s still the Jazz primarily go-to player for a basket. The big moments and big shots are what Mitchell supports on a team that defensively is just really tough. With that being said one of the biggest question marks here is if the Jazz can’t defend the three-point ball. Then they are in trouble. However, does Memphis pose a series three-point threat? Nope. Jazz in 5 at the most.

(8) Memphis Grizzlies

We have to kind of think of this year’s 8th seed as being unique. Technically, in the old NBA rules, the Grizzlies would be sitting at home because they failed to qualify as a top 8 seed in the Western Conference. Their commitment to go out and “steal” the 8th seed from the Golden State Warriors on Friday night gave all the reason in the world we should be ok with the Grizzlies here.

I think it’s time to stop letting the names like Zion Williamson distract us from a guy named Ja Morant. In his short NBA career himself with the Grizzlies he’s kept the franchise close to playoff talk since his Rookie season. Albeit, that was last season the Grizzlies maintained themselves in the 8th seed until the NBA bubble decided otherwise. A little bad faith in losing Jaren Jackson Jr. (who just returned and played 10 regular-season games this season) and the Trailblazers knocking them out of the 8th seed last year makes this year even better.

I’ve advised that younger players in the NBA generally do not make much of an impact early on in their careers and especially prior to the age of 25. However, Ja Morant has me rooting for him to curve that by a year or two, and let’s see the Grizzlies become a contender! Wishful thinking from me but nonetheless this is the best start for Morant’s young career.

Top players to watch

Donovan Mitchell: 2020-2021 season

  • 26.4 PPG
  • 4.4 RPG
  • 5.2 APG

Ja Morant: 2020-2021 season

  • 19.1 PPG
  • 4.0RPG
  • 7.4 APG

Podcasts

Schedule and Results

Game

Away

Home

Date

Time

TV

Results

Game 1:
MEM leads 1-0

5/23/21

9:30 PM EST

TNT

Grizzlies - 112
Jazz - 109

Game 2:
Series tied 1-1

5/26/21

10:00 PM ET

TNT

Grizzlies - 129
Jazz - 141

Game 3:
UTA leads 2-1

5/29/21

9:30 PM ET

ESPN

Jazz - 121
Grizzlies - 111

Game 4:
UTA leads 3-1

5/31/21

9:30 PM ET

TNT

Jazz - 120
Grizzlies - 113

Game 5:
UTA wins series 4-1

6/2/21

9:30 PM ET

NBA TV

Grizzlies - 110
Jazz - 126

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2018 NBA Playoff Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Utah Jazz

No. 4 OKC Thunder vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz

2018 Playoff Preview and Prediction

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s playoff time in the NBA, and I’ve got what you need to know for one of the best opening round matchups. OKC has the triple double machine in Russell Westbrook leading the charge while the Jazz look to ride the wave of their rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell. On paper, it would seem that OKC with their veteran core of Westbrook-Carmelo Anthony-Paul George would be the heavy favorites in this series. However, the Jazz has won 17 of 21 heading into the playoffs and with Rudy Gobert back their defense is galvanized. Let’s look at some key points heading into the series.

Regular Season Matchup

The Thunder took the season series between the two teams 3-1. The Thunder won their games by an average of 16 points, while the Jazz happened to squeak by a 9 point win against them. The lone Jazz win against the Thunder they held Westbrook to under 10 points that game. All four of these games happened last calendar year, and the two teams haven’t met since December. Since then, the two teams have projected up, especially the Jazz. Therefore it could be said that the regular season matchups could not be indicative of what will happen in the playoffs.

Jazz Keys to Winning

Offense

The Jazz doesn’t have the superstar firepower on their roster like much of the top western conference teams can boast. Mitchell leads the team with 20.5 ppg with no one else averaging 20+. The Jazz is going to have to scheme a good offensive plan to keep pace with the Thunder. Keeping Westbrook from hounding Mitchell all game will be pivotal for their offense. So I expect to see a lot of screens with Mitchell, not too much unlike their regular season plan. However, they’re going to need to find a reliable second option to keep the offense in tempo.

Rodney Hood is going to need to be able to create some offense and probably up his 16.8 ppg regular season average to around 20. The Jazz will have to look to their bench to keep the score close while the Thunder’s starting lineup is off the floor. Utah does have Joe Johnson coming off the bench, and he somehow always finds a way to step it up in the playoffs. If Iso Joe and a newly revitalized Marco Rubio can anchor the bench, their offense may not be in as much trouble as it may seem.

Defensively

Rudy Gobert, the best anchor in the league, is going to have to be at that level every night. He’ll be posted up against Steven Adams, a fantastic post player. If that wasn’t enough Westbrook will be slashing and attacking the rim every night. Jae Crowder will likely have to be doing duty on both Anthony and George to keep a body on them at all times.

If Gobert can stay out of foul trouble, the team should be excellent defensively. They’ll need to make sure that Gobert stays in the paint on most possessions. OKC has a plethora of guys who can get to the rim, and the Jazz will need to truncate any easy points OKC wishes to obtain.

Thunder Keys to Winning

Offense

Russell Westbrook dominating is going to happen. The problem is who will be the Robin to his Batman? Paul George over the last month has been averaging 20 ppg to go with his better defensive play. If he can keep this up, then the Jazz will have a harder time deciding where they can shore up on defense. Carmello Anthony is currently averaging 16.2 ppg heading into the playoffs. However, it’s coming on 40% shooting. If he can up that to at least 45%, he and George can punish whoever Crowder isn’t guarding.

A big key to the Thunder offense is if they can grab a reasonable rate of offensive rebounds. Controlling possessions in this series will be crucial for the Thunder as the Jazz defense is very stout. The Thunder don’t shoot the best percentage from the field in the league, so more opportunities will allow them to keep their usual pace going. Offensive rebounds also allow for more ball movement, something the Thunder will need to keep the Jazz defense on its heel.

The Thunder’s bench is also going to need to step it up. They’re averaging 26.4 ppg, and I’d like to see that average go up to 32-35 ppg. There are times when the offense gets stagnant from the bench if none of the starters are in the lineup. If Westbrook can be afforded some time off the floor this series, it would bode well for the Thunder going forward if he’s more rested.

Defense

Keep Westbrook on Mitchell. Mitchell is going to be the motor of the Jazz’s offense, but he’s going against the man with an infinite engine in Westbrook. I can’t imagine a time where Westbrook would not be hounding Mitchell when he’s in the game. Dropping him from 20 ppg to 15 would be devastating to the Jazz offense.

Creating turnovers will also be a massive boon for the Thunder in this series. The Jazz is going to need to keep pace in scoring with OKC, but with Westbrook and George hounding the passing lanes, a dry spot from the Jazz can mean the game for OKC. Adams down low will have to keep out of foul trouble with Gobert. This Thunder lineup isn’t like last year where Kanter could come in to keep a big rim protector on the floor. Should Adams get in foul trouble, Nick Collison and Dakari Johnson will need to be able to keep up with Gobert? Should Gobert’s average climb from 13.5 ppg, the Thunder will be in trouble in the paint.

Conclusion

The Jazz and Thunder are more or less the opposite teams on paper. This is going to be a series of X-factors and who can be more consistent on offense this whole series. The Jazz will need to find an answer to containing the rest of the Thunder around Westbrook, and if they can this series will be in their favor. However, if Westbrook and co. can keep on the gas, as usual, this series will likely go in their favor as the Jazz offensive capabilities can stutter at times.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder in 6 Games.

Westbrook celebrating

Peace.

Markus X. Murden, Esq.

Senior Editor and Host of The Heels of Wrestling Podcast. Battle Rap aficionado. Follow me @MXMurden and @TheHowPod

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