For the first time in a long time, the Utah Jazz have reached the second round of the NBA playoffs. Awaiting them however is the Golden State Warriors, who are the favorites to reach their third NBA Finals in a row. The series begins tonight (10:30 PM Tuesday on TNT) at the Oracle Arena in Oakland.
Reaching the Western Conference semifinals was just about as routine as one would have expected for the conference’s defending champions. The top-seeded Golden State made it look easy, dispatching the Portland Trailblazers in a sweep where they recorded an average margin of victory of 15.5 points. Last year’s MVP Stephen Curry shone, averaging 29.8 points despite only playing less than 34 minutes per game. Kevin Durant also averaged a scoring mark in the double digits (21 PPG), despite playing just 28 minutes per game and being injured for part of the series.
The Warriors look primed to make another deep run if everybody can stay healthy but even so, with Durant missing part of the first round, Golden State still made it look easy as their depth betters just about every other team in the league. Curry, Javale McGee and Durant all finished within the top 10 in points per 48 minutes played.
While one could say the Jazz are just happy to be back in the second round, Utah has other plans as they took down the LA Clippers in their first round match-up. The Jazz needed seven games, all of which were decided by less than 10 points, but they played tough and hard behind guys like Gordon Hayward and the resurging George Hill. Hayward led all Jazz scorers with 23.7 points per game, shooting just a tick under 47 percent from behind the arc. Hill, now 30 and in his eighth year in the league, added 16.9 points, while Rudy Gobert dominated the boards with 7.4 rebounds per game.
Defensively, Utah was one of the best in the first round, finishing third with an opponents’ team average of just 97.7 points per game. However perhaps a more telling stat is that they allowed the opposition to shoot over 47 percent against them, the fifth highest mark of the first round. They’ll be facing a team in Golden State that led all postseason teams with 119.5 points per game, shot a postseason best 48.4 percent, and a post-season third best 40.3 percent from three point range.
The Jazz will have their work cut out for them if they hope to shock the world and upset the Warriors. But, if there were a team to do it, Utah might be it, as they boast the kind of play that has caused Golden State some trouble in the past. Believe it or not, this is actually a tricky match-up for the Warriors.
Golden State is still the favorite however with good reason. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better threesome than the one of Durant, Curry and Klay Thompson. Add to that trio Draymond Green, whose absence in last year’s NBA Finals was likely the difference maker in Golden State losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and you have a one-two-three-four punch that is going to be tough for any team to manage. Curry has been hot too and if he stays hot, then Golden State has the dominant player they’ll need to make anything the Jazz can counter with, a moot point.
But if Curry is inconsistent as he has been in the past, Utah could have their opening. They have a bit of an X-factor of their own in Joe Johnson, the 35-year-old seven-time all-star, who is the team’s third leading scorer behind Hayward and Hill. He is as important a player to this team as any other and if he can somehow manage to win the matchups against Durant and Andre Iguodala, the Jazz could make some noise.
Ultimately though, Utah is going to need a lot to fall in its favor if they hope to advance to the Western Conference Finals. They are going to need to find a way to clamp down on defense for starters, because Utah can’t match the almost 120 points per game the Warriors are putting up. This means controlling the pace and finding ways to limit the opportunities the Warriors get in transition.
The Jazz will also need to win in the clutch. They won’t be blowing out Golden State that’s for sure. They’ll be lucky if they can keep pace with them offensively. But if they do, they’ll need to make those key shots in the guts and glory of the game. Hayward is still young but this postseason has been a coming out party for him. The Jazz will need to rely on him and some late game heroics in order to put pressure on Golden State. If this becomes a shot for shot game however, Utah can forget about it as they just don’t have the scorers to beat Golden State in that kind of situation.
This Preview’s Utah Jazz vs Golden State Warriors Betting Picks & Predictions
With a team coming off a sweep and another coming off a hard fought seven game battle, there is going to be the question of rust versus rest. However, the Warriors have never let an extended break hurt them before and I doubt this is the year it happens. Most of the players still have young legs and the extra time off will allow Durant to be as healed up as he possibly can be. He contributed in the first series but not to the level he is capable of producing. A healthy Durant however all but assures that the Warriors are going to book a return trip to the conference finals.
- The Jazz will make this a series but in the end, they just don’t have the firepower to compete with the Warriors. Take Golden State to win it in five as Utah will steal one at home but that’s about it. This 4-1 series scoreline pick is at odds of +160 with Bovada and +150 with BetOnline.
- As for game one, the spread is a massive 13pts with most betting firms in favor of the home team. Golden State has the ability to crush the Jazz in this way but I don’t think they will. Utah has played close games and if you subtract their margin of victory from that of the Warriors, we’re left in single digits. Given the Warriors might have some rust to shake off, expect the Jazz to keep it close. So the betting prediction is to bet on Utah Jazz +13.5pts @ -110 with Bovada Sportsbook.
- Don’t shy away from the over which varies from 206pts to 208pts depending on the bookmaker, as Golden State will score and Utah will have to keep some kind of pace to stay in it. Pick over 206pts @ -110 with BetOnline.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.