I’m a Canadian first, and Jazz fan second. So as you can imagine, it was always a conflicting time for me when the Utah Jazz would be scheduled to dismantle the Toronto Raptors (and also previously, the Vancouver Grizzlies). I am a vehement supporter of Canadian basketball, Canadian teams in the NBA, and also Canadian players going pro all over the world (Carl English is my BOY!). As a basketball fan I can honestly say there has been few times where I cheered harder than I did when Keon Clark faced up Felton Spencer, and took him to the rack in a playoff elimination game (0:38), on the road, as the Toronto Raptors dispatched the New York Knicks. All that said, I can’t root for a Canadian team over my Jazz. And I feel really, really guilty about how easily the Jazz have beaten the Raps over the history of this series.
The Jazz and the Raps have played 30 times (they did not face off vs. each other in the previous Lockout shortened season in ’98-’99); in that span the Jazz have lost to the Raptors only 7 times. That’s a winning percentage of 76.7%. Overall, the average scores calculate to 100.8 points for the Jazz to 94.3 points for the Raptors. That’s not too bad, it’s only a margin of defeat, on average, of 6.5 points. However, in the last Ten Games the Jazz have gone 10-0, winning on average 105.2 – 92.5. That is an average margin of defeat for Toronto of -12.7 points. It is cringe inducing.
The series didn’t start off like this. Yes, the Jazz swept the Raptors in their first two meetings, way back in 1995-1996. But the next ten games these two teams played (1996-1997 to 2001-2002 – all peak Stockton and Malone Jazz years), the Jazz only went 6-4. While keeping the Jazz to a 60.0% win percentage doesn’t look that great, remember that for that same period of time Utah was winning 50 to 60 games every year, which is winning at least 60.9% of the time. The Raptors made the Jazz, effectively, hold serve during that period. You could contrast that to how the Vancouver Grizzlies used to give up the ghost against the Jazz, losing at least 80% of the time. It’s clear that the Raptors used to show up against the Jazz, and this is something that a Canadian Jazz fan can appreciate.
Yes, the over-all series is one-sided, the Jazz even win the blowout margin 13-4; but it must be pointed out that the Jazz racked up so many wins against somewhat directionless Toronto teams. Those Stockton-Malone-Hornacek-Sloan teams used to feast on those types of clubs. And the D-Will, C-Booz, AK-47 teams did as well. Right now none of those players (or coach) is on this Jazz team. And this isn’t the same Mighty Mouse Raptors team either.
Last season it took a buzzer beating tip-in by Al Jefferson to fend of the Raptors. This season the Raptors have even more teeth. The Raps went 4-6 in their first ten games this season, which may not look convincing; but it is. The majority of the Raptors first ten games were on the road, and against the likes of the Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, and even the New York Knicks back before they were labeled as failures. Yes, it is true, they did have an 8 game losing streak right after their last solid win, a 10 point defeat of the Minnesota Timberwolves (a team everyone can’t stop hyping). They snapped the streak last night with a win, again on the road, against the Phoenix Suns. All in all, 12 of the Raptors 19 games this month will have been on the road. That is brutal. They finish off the month with a game tonight in Utah, and then on Friday in Denver.
The Raptors are better than their record. On the same vein, some believe the Jazz to be worse than theirs. Utah has been at home, it seems, all season long outside of the first week. The Jazz are rolling, while the Raptors are reeling. However, you have to throw out all the trends when these two teams face off. This isn’t the same Raptors team as the last 10 years. This isn’t the same Jazz team of the previous 10 games. Yes, Utah is good at home and Toronto is finishing off a back-to-back set. But, this is still the franchise that made the Stockton and Malone Jazz hold serve. And this is still a franchise that can pick up a win in Utah.
Toronto is a Top 10 shot blocking team that takes care of their glass (#7 in defensive rebounds). Best of all, teams shoot their 5th worst against the Raptors (only 41.9 fg%). Utah, outside of Paul Millsap, is far from an efficient scoring club. They rely on getting offensive rebounds. Toronto keeps teams off the glass, and prevents them from getting offensive rebounds. This is a classic trap game, especially if you overlook that point that some of the Raptors’ strengths are precisely the Jazz’ weaknesses.
This season DeMar DeRozan, Leandro Barbosa, and Jose Manuel Calderon are statistically killing the Jazz group of Raja Bell, Gordon Hayward, and Devin Harris. If Amir Johnson and Ed Davis focus tonight, they may just give enough space for Andrea Bargnani to push the Raptors over the top. Bargs is just the type of guy who can sucker Big Al Jefferson into a 40 fg% shooting night.
Guiltily, I hope not — as a Canadian Jazz fan.