Game Thread: Sizing each other up: Warriors visit Utah in potential playoff matchup

Wiseman vs Gobert; Curry vs Conley; and all the wings vs all the wings!

The Golden State Warriors have no shortage of tests. It seems like every game is a fresh opportunity to explore the strengths and limitations of a flawed, but deeply talented roster.

Up next: the extremely solid Utah Jazz.

But before we get into the game, check this out!


GAME DETAILS

WHO: Golden State Warriors (8-7) at Utah Jazz (11-4)

WHEN: Saturday, January 23, 2021 // 6:00pm PST

WATCH: NBCSBA


A re-loaded, more dangerous Jazz

The Utah Jazz have been sniffing around the edge of elite status for a few seasons now. Sporting an extremely solid defense helmed by Ruby “the stifle tower” Gobert, and the offensive styling of Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz have been good for years. Is this year different? Or is this just a team that looks unusually strong after reeling off a 7-game win streak early in the season?

However they got here, the Jazz are playing like one of the best teams in the NBA right now - ranking top-10 in both offense and defense, they have the second-best net scoring differential. The Jazz take a ton of threes (3rd most in the league), and have been hitting them at a team-wide rate of around 40%; the second-best such mark in the NBA. This is a team that’s going to put pressure on the Warriors on both ends of the court.

Here’s a cool, almost Explain One Play-ish video breakdown on Gobert’s defense. Bottom line is that Gobert is a tremendous defender, as long as he doesn’t stray too far from the basket:

Led on offense by Donovan Mitchell (24.3 points, 4.9 assists per game), the Jazz have found a couple of wing treasures in a (finally) healthy Mike Conley, and Jordan Clarkson (?) - who each pitch in around 17 points per game. As a team, they’re shooting at the fifth-best efficiency in the league.

Not too shabby.

And Utah might have been handed a little extra motivation when Shaq took Donovan Mitchell to task on a national broadcast for TNT. It’s a really weird segment, with Shaq telling Donovan that he’s one of his favorites players, and then in the same breath, literally telling him that he doesn’t “have what it takes.”

It kicked off a rolling dialogue on Friday, with a bunch of players chiming in, including Kevin Durant. It was an interesting window that opened up a wider conversation about how to motivate players in the modern era - a critical question as the Warriors work towards building James Wiseman as their bridge to the future. The line between being firm, and being a jerk has always been blurred - a truth even more pertinent when it comes to professional athletes. I’ve watched enough Forged In Fire to know that you can wreck a blade by tempering it wrong.

This Jazz team will sorely test the Warriors on both ends of the court

As well as the Warriors have been playing in spurts, this is still a team with a number of weak spots in their armor. Unfortunately, a few of the most glaring cracks are precisely in areas where the Jazz are extra strong.

We already covered the Jazz’s defense holding opponents to the second-worst shooting efficiency; but Golden State will be bringing their own negative force multiplier, as the Dubs are currently ranking all the way down at 23rd when it comes to effective field goal percentage. This is especially worrisome because two of the Warriors most high usage scorers, Andrew Wiggins, and Kelly Oubre, score at below average efficiency (41st and 4th percentile, respectively).

So you can see the trap here. If the Jazz load up on Curry and force more shots into the team’s less efficient options, who then are forcing shots up against defenders that are adept at keeping scorers contained…

One step further downstream, we find that the Jazz are the NBA’s second-best rebounding team. The Warriors? The fifth-worst rebounding rate.

But these are the new Warriors. The punchy underdogs.

Stephen Curry is the best player on the floor, and the Warriors’ wing players are well-suited to containing the Jazz wing-heavy offensive attack. They’ve already got a pretty clear list of strengths and weaknesses for this matchup, now the Warriors just have to go out there and execute their plan.

This game will also be a fantastic opportunity for rookie center, James Wiseman. While Gobert is elite, he’s also an extremely limited player. I don’t know that Wiseman can outplay him (yet) in any aspect of the game, but the combined height and athleticism should be quite a show.

Predictions

Keep an eye on Mike Conley. Like Jrue Holiday, this is a player that is constantly slept on because of his extensive injury history. He’s second in the NBA with a net rating of +14.6 and will be eager to remind everyone that he used to be considered a peer of Curry.

Oubre and Wiggins have been playing well lately, and they’ll need to continue that trend against the Jazz. An inefficient, or downright bad game from one or both of the Warriors primary wings could spell doom.

Warriors, stung by that rough loss to the Knicks, elevate their game, and beat the Jazz 106-102.