It seems inevitable that the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers will meet again in the NBA Finals for the third straight time once the 2016-17 regular season comes to an end.
However, I think someone will knock off one of those two powerhouse teams. There is one team that is flying under the radar that could definitely make some noise come playoff time.
That team is the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz currently sits with a 34-21 overall record, and would be a four seed in the Western Conference if the season were to end today. The Houston Rockets have been the main surprise in the Western Conference, but Utah certainly deserves a lot more recognition than they’ve been given.
The Jazz are led by all-star forward Gordon Hayward. Hayward is averaging a career high 22.6 points per game, to go with his nearly 6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. Point guard George Hill is having a very good season as well. The offseason trade acquisition is averaging a career high in points as well, averaging 17.5 points per game.
The Jazz have an elite supporting cast to go along with their stars; third year player Rodney Hood is becoming one of the NBA’s premier three-and-D players, and center Rudy Gobert is pretty much a better free throw shooting De’Andre Jordan.
The Jazz’s’ bench is incredibly deep and they all get a good amount of playing time. According to the team’s statistics, 12 Jazz bench players get more than 13 minutes per game, and with playoff tested veterans such as Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw on the roster, the Jazz do not lack the playoff experience that most other up and coming teams do.
What makes the Jazz my favorite NBA dark horse is that their style of play is one that could potentially give the Warriors problems. With great depth in the frontcourt, and great team defense, the Jazz like to play the game with a slow pace. The Jazz are in prime position to match up with the Warriors in the second round, and I believe that the Warriors would be less than thrilled to see Utah in a seven game series.
Utah has great length, depth, rim protection and is one of the most well coached teams in the league. Their ability to slow down the pace of the game against Golden State could present some problems. Golden State is very good in the half court on offense, but not nearly as lethal as they are in transition. Taking that into account, and the fact that the officials let teams play more physical on defense in the playoffs, means that the Jazz are potentially a major threat to the Warriors.
With all of that being said, I do think that the Jazz pose the biggest threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference. Basketball is a game of matchups, and Jazz have some favorable matchups against the Warriors. If this series does happen, Utah’s only shot would be to slow down the game and play at their pace. If Utah can do that, do not be surprised if they burst on the scene in May by taking the Warriors deep into a playoff series.