Player Ratings-Utah @ Orlando

The Utah Jazz did something in the last two nights that is going to be tough for any club to accomplish over the next few years. Forget about the comebacks of 22 points and 19 points in a 24 hour time span, the fact that they beat Miami and Orlando on back to back nights is the true shocker. The Lakers could do it. The Celtics could do it. That doesn’t mean they will. Those teams won’t get the chance to play a road back-to-back this year against these two teams. The Jazz effectively gained at least a game on every team in the West, maybe even two games when you consider both teams they beat will win over fifty games. How do the Jazz do it though? The first part is falling behind and doing it in a big way. Dwight Howard was aggressive offensively, showing a wide variety, for him anyway, of moves and that forced Utah to commit double teams. As a result, Orlando found their touch beyond the arc and in a flash, Utah was struggling to stay within twenty. Down 18 with 1:22 left in the third, this is what transpired:

Fesenko FT, Milsap and 1, Williams lay-in off TO, Vince passes it off the referees foot to Millsap, Williams hits a three to end the quarter. Jazz down by nine. Momentum into the fourth. Starting the fourth, Raja Bell layup, Gortat follow-up, Williams feeds Fesenko for a smash, Williams FT after Stan Van Gundy got a tech, Fesenko smash off another Williams feed, Williams three off of inbounds play, Kirilenko banks in a three and then he steals a rebound from Quentin Richardson,

That’s a 24-2 run. Utah is up four with seven minutes left. They trade punches back and forth and in the end, Utah is a clutch and Orlando is not. Here’s what you won’t see looking at a box score or play by play, whenever the Jazz switched to a 2-3 zone, Orlando couldn’t crack it. They collapsed on Howard, he passed out of it and they couldn’t get an open look on the perimeter or penetrate enough to bust it.

Andrei Kirilenko – 7

My favorite player in this game and not just because his new haircut is a weird hybrid between a bowl cut and a mullet. Not a great shooting night but that’s not what you need from him. He did have a couple of big threes to go with his two steals, six boards, three assists, and seven hustle plays. If you want to know his impact on a basketball game, just watch the firs minute and a half of the game. Stole the tip, steal on defense, forced a jump ball, dove for a loose ball, and had great movement off the ball.

Deron Williams – 8

Here’s a thing Deron Williams doesn’t get enough credit for. His low post players Al Jefferson (statue) and Kyrylo Fesenko (statue). When Williams goes barreling into the paint and the defense collapses, they don’t move to create the passing lanes, leaving Deron to do it by himself. He did an excellent job of feeding them with no looks and bounce passes and jump passes when he was surrounded by three players. He created the passing lanes when there were none. He passed when he needed to. He shot the ball when he needed to. He had a great feel for the game and was the best player on his team, which wasn’t the case against Miami.

Al Jefferson – 7

A sieve defensively although you wouldn’t notice it since most of Orlando’s damage came from mid to long range. That’s nothing new from him though. Your traditional low-post player, he handled Dwight Howard offensively with ease. They even went to him during crunch time and he got effortless points on Howard. Twice even. Williams made him look good a couple times by doing everything but balancing the ball on the rim for him to jam it on through but he created his own offense when called upon and he did it against the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.

Dwight Howard – 6

He only took eight shots but they were all really good looks. I was absolutley floored by the improvement in his game on the offensive end. He’s still only got like four moves down there and I’m sure that I could post up Jefferson and shoot a decent percentage but still, it’s impressive none the less. Defensively he was okay, getting a few blocks and grabbing a few boards but he wasn’t the dominating force Orlando needs. Jefferson had a good game against him and fouls limited the effect he could have on the game.

They say practice makes perfect, which is the dumbest thing I ever heard because perfection is unattainable but I’m not going to pick nits. Even just counting the fact that he is shooting free throws 10-14 times per game over the last few years, isn’t that enough practice to make improvements, even if they’re slight improvements? If I’m an accountant and have no discernible physical skills and I shoot free throws every other day for five years straight, or perhaps longer than that even, don’t I stand a great chance to improve my amount of makes over that course of time? It would stand to reason that I would eventually plateau but to have a 4-11 night from the line is unbelievable when you shoot them so often. His free throw misses before the Jazz made their run could have made what seemed to be unattainable even more so, I don’t understand it. I’m sure Stan Van Gundy doesn’t either.

Vince Carter – 5

Vince hit a few nice bombs and missed some as well but he drove to the basket plenty which would be great if he had remembered to do this against the Celtics in the playoffs. Let’s see it in May.

Rashard Lewis – 5

Lewis is devastating offensively, to either the opponents or his own team. He really has a versatile game when the Magic have the ball. He’s more than catch and shoot. He can put it on the floor, he can post up, and he can bomb it when he’s hot. He wasn’t though and missed more than he made.

The important thing learned tonight was this: The Jazz can handle adversity, as you’d expect from a Jerry Sloan team. They also just got a two game head start on all of the Western Conference teams that haven’t played in Orlando and Miami yet and with eight teams out west winning 50+ last year, these early season wins will mean just as much as the late season ones in April.

Like what you saw? Think I’m an idiot in need of professional help? Hit the comments and follow me on twitter @stefanhynes.

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