NBA “Bubble Game” Preview: Utah Jazz vs New Orleans Pelicans

by Harrison Porter | The NBA returns on Thursday night and the Jazz will have the honor of being in the first official “bubble” game. That will make 142 days since the last time the Jazz were on the court before the season was suspended on March 11, 2020.

Currently, the Jazz sit in fourth place in the Western Conference with a 41-23 record and clinched a spot in the playoffs. Before the Jazz take center stage this week, they will have played in three official scrimmages. These scrimmages offered a glimpse inside the Jazz’s preparations for a deep playoff run this summer.

If the first three games offered any insight into the Jazz’s playoff strategy, Mike
Conley will look to be much more aggressive and take on more of a lead guard role
going forward. Conley looked aggressive in the Jazz’s 101-99 win over the Heat as he
scored 17 points with six rebounds and shot 46.7% from the field. Conley either
attacked the rim or made a quick pass to Rudy Gobert for a dunk.
Conley put up 15 shots in the second scrimmage compared to his meager eight attempts in their first friendly against the Suns.

As a team, the Jazz connected on 14 of 40 attempts from beyond the arc for 35% on Saturday night against the Miami Heat. The starters connected on only 25% of their three-point attempts, so Quin Synder will need some more production from his first-unit guards.

The Jazz will be tested in their first game since the NBA season was suspended and there will be some crucial matchups to watch. The matchup that NBA fans anticipate is Royce O’Neale guarding Zion Williamson for the Pelicans. It will be key for the Jazz to slow Williamson down from the start of the game as the Pelicans feed off of Zion’s energy and leap-out-of-the-building athleticism. Allowing Williamson to get hot from three-point-land early on in the game will open up the floor for other players like Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday to slash towards the basket. Another matchup to keep an eye on will be Jrue going against Donovan Mitchell. Jrue’s coming off an NBA All-Defensive Second Team selection and will look to make Donovan uncomfortable all night. The key for Donovan will be to identify double teams, traps, and find open teammates.  He should also continue attack Holiday to force him into foul trouble.

The Jazz will need a solid bench contribution similar to the one they got against the Heat where Jordan Clarkson, Georges Niang and Emmanual Mudiay combined for 36 points. Those three will need to continue to set the pace for the second unit’s scoring effort. This will help Donovan Mitchell and the starters. The Jazz size up well against the Pelicans with regards to youth and a steady veteran presence on their roster.

I predict the Jazz will be the more defensively disciplined team and win 96-87 behind a combined 40 point effort between Mitchell and Conley.

The game will be broadcast on TNT at 4:30 PM MST.

Featured image courtesy USA Today.

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