Utah Jazz (13-12) vs. Miami Heat (17-6) , December 22nd


What we saw in the Miami Heat’s victory over the Dallas Mavericks is, from what I can tell, what people expect to see every time the Heat touch the floor. An article in the Sun-Sentinel came out earlier in the week mentioning the lack of intimidation Miami has on other teams, mentioning that the ‘96 Bulls won games just by walking in the building, and often having Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen with ice on their knees by the fourth quarter. Well, Thursday we saw LeBron doing his nails, and it looked like Wade dozed off. Heck, Erik Spoelstra even got distracted by something in the crowd in the fourth, and he’s usually staring at the action with a pained look on his face till the final buzzer. But Thursday, that was intimidating. The threes, the passing, the running and dunking, the Miami Heat looked like a championship team once again. It’s been all too rare this year.

As ever though, we must move on. The Utah Jazz have a date with the Heat Saturday night, and it could be a good one. The Jazz are built around their twin towers of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, a pair of dominating big men who can carry a team on their own. Big Al is averaging 16.8 points and 10.2 rebounds a game, Milsap chasing him with 14.7 and 8.2. They also happen to have a kind of strange relationship – just search Paul Millsap Al Jefferson bromance on Google and watch the video at the top. It’s incredible.

Besides being two halves of the same superman, these two are the core of this team along with the young and improving Derrick Favors. Favors might just be better than either of them down the line, he’s averaging over nine points a game and seven boards despite playing only 22 minutes. He might end up the steal of the Deron Williams trade, but we’ll see. These guys just eat glass, and along with second year player Enes Kanter (AKA Big Turk, who might even be better than Favors) you just won’t have much of a shot in the paint. The chemistry Millsap and Jefferson have together on the court is beautiful – seeing two post players work off each other, helping the other to cover weaknesses and making each other’s lives easier, it’s just brilliant basketball. It’s sad one of them will likely be traded before season’s end, but it’s the way of things. Maybe Al will find a home in Miami.

The Jazz were the eight-seed in the West last season, and I’ll be honest, I thought they might have a chance against the San Antonio Spurs because of their power down low. It turns out Tim Duncan is still awesome and the Spurs were as good as advertised, and I feasted on my words. What can I say, I have a lot of faith in this team going forward, and if I were a perimeter player this is where I’d want to play. If they had Chris Paul, they’d win every game.

What happened last time: The last time these two played, it turned what should have been another regular season game into one of the biggest talking points of the 2011-12 season. With time winding down, LeBron got the ball at the top of the key and made to drive to the hoop, but saw it covered. He dished off to Udonis Haslem for his patented elbow jumper that’s served the Heat so well all these years. Udonis missed, and the Heat lost 99-98. The sporting world exploded with accusations of passivity, lack of killer instinct, wimpiness, and who knows what other epithets, all leveled at LeBron. He should have taken it to the rack, they said, he should have taken the shot. Just another example of how he’s NOT like Michael Jordan. Fortuantely, all that was moronic. If anything it showed how much LeBron trusted UD to take that shot, and that trust in one of the key players of Miami is what really helped this team gel and what won Miami the title.

Miami was out-rebounded in that game 50-32, and six Jazz players scored in double figures led by Jefferson’s 20. Wade scored 31, LeBron led with 35 along with 10 boards, and the Heat suffered their third loss in a row on the tail end of a long, long west coast road trip. Shane Battier hit six of seven from distance, and they still lost. It’s hard to win in Salt Lake City, but that little, insignificant loss that everyone blew out of proportion was one of the most important games of the year.

Who to watch for: I already mentioned that starting front line of Jefferson and Millsap, but I’m serious when I say keep an eye out for Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. These guys are no slouches, Kanter, who was highly touted out of college because of his size, strength and touch,  is shooting 54% on the year and Favors is a massive piece of man who clears the lane when he boxes guys out for rebounds. They’re both going to be real good not too long from now.

The Utah backcourt is led by LeBron’s old friend Mo Williams, having a Mo Williams kind of year with 13 points and seven assists. He’s still a shot maker, he hit the buzzer beater the other day over the Spurs. He’s still good not great, but you can’t sleep on him. Luckily, Norris Cole doesn’t care what anyone can do, and will crush on defense. Gordon Heyward is playing well too, shooting .412/.337/.848. He’s never going to be a sharpshooter like Kyle Korver or Steve Novak, but Gordon is a baller – he can take it to the hoop, he’s got handles, and he’s going to have a good career if he stays healthy. He won’t beat the Heat, probably, but he’ll help his team win.

For Miami, Udonis Haslem looks to get another start and some big minutes to combat the Utah front line. Norris Cole is again taking time from Mario Chalmers, but he’s got to get a little bit of control. He’s incredibly important for the long run of this team, watch for improvements.  Also, watch LeBron from distance – he’s shooting 42% from beyond the arc this season. It’s incredible.

Why the Heat will win: They’re coming off a tremendous road win and looked like an unbeatable juggernaut. They have more talent than the other guys and the best player in the game. This is getting repetitive, but it’s the truth. The Jazz have a suspect perimeter defense and they’re real young, which is a bad recipe for anyone playing a team with Dwyane Wade and the host of shooter and vets Miami has. The way Shane Battier is able to play power forward and draw the defender out of the paint, that could open it up. I would just feel bad for Shane because of the beating he’d take.

Why the Heat will lose: The size and and depth of the Utah frontcourt is not to be trifled with, and they could well win this game for the Jazz. If Miami can’t get to the hoop they’re somewhat limited, even with all that perimeter shooting. Millsap and Jefferson will have to play big and WIlliams needs to hit a bunch of big shots, and this one is winnable for the Jazz.

Prediction: 107 – 90, Miami. I was somewhat close with the Dallas game, but that as only as close as it was because the Pittman boys came in at the end. That is a bad team, and would lose 78 games if that was a starting five. It’s at home and Miami looks to be turning it on to remind everyone why they’re the defending champs. Plus, they need a warmup before they host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Christmas Day.