After commencing a fantastic run of form in late January, the Jazz are close to having sewn up a playoff spot. With a 42-32 record and just a 2.5 game buffer over the Clippers and the Nuggets, they will need a couple of more wins to make it a certainty.
A 110-91 victory over the Warriors on Sunday certainly helped, though they were helped by the enormity of their opponent’s injury list. All four of Golden State’s stars sat out the game, allowing Utah’s excellent defense to restrict them to well under 100 points.
Boston, with a 51-23 record, don’t appear likely to move in the standings prior to the playoffs. They are 3.5 games behind Toronto and 7.0 games ahead of the Cavs, meaning they have almost certainly locked in the number two seed.
Despite this, they will be eager to find form prior to the playoffs, and are well on their way to doing so having won their past four games.
Three keys to the game
Defense - These are arguably the best two defensive sides in the league, and the stats back that up. Boston are first in defensive rating, conceding just 101.2 points per 100 possessions, while Utah is second with a rating of 102.0. Narrow this down to the month of March though, and the Jazz are far, far better. Boston’s rating is similar in this time, but the Jazz’s is down to 94.9, and it is even lower since their winning streak started in January.
Terry Rozier - Irving has now missed seven consecutive games, and will miss the rest of the regular season with a knee injury. Boston have still managed to go 5-2 without him though, and Rozier is a large reason why. He has stepped into Irving’s place as the team’s starting point guard, and is averaging 18.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.7 steals in this time.
The efficient Stifle Tower - Gobert is renowned for his extraordinary defense, and rightly so, as his performances this season make it hard to argue against him as the best defender in the game. His offense has been vastly improved of late and his 16.7 points per game in his past ten outings have come on 66% shooting.
Matchup to watch
Joe Ingles vs Jayson Tatum - Tatum’s rookie season has impressed everybody, and even if he has come back to earth after leading the league in 3-point percentage early in the season, he is still playing some great basketball. Tatum is averaging 13.7 points and is shooting 42.6% from beyond the arc this season, and in his past five games he is putting up 18.8 points and hitting 46.7% of his 3-point attempts. His versatility on defense has also been impressive to watch, and he will need to be at his best at that end of the floor against one of the more effective 3-point shooters in the game.
The more experienced Ingles bears some similarity to the young Tatum, albeit in a much less athletic form. Ingles hits 44.7% of his 3-point attempts over the course of the season, and in his past five games averages 15.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 7.6 assists and a steal. He, too, is a competent and switchable defender, meaning this should be an entertaining matchup between two versatile players who can do a little bit of everything.
Utah Jazz predicted starting lineup
PG - Ricky Rubio | SG - Donovan Mitchell | SF - Joe Ingles | PF - Derrick Favors | C - Rudy Gobert
Boston Celtics predicted starting lineup
PG - Terry Rozier | SG - Jaylen Brown | SF - Jayson Tatum | PF - Al Horford | C - Aron Baynes
Rubio got fouled out in the early season matchup between these two sides, but he had done enough to lead his Jazz to victory by then. He shot 10-for-15 from the field on the way to 22 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and dished out five assists.
For Boston, Horford was at his versatile best, shooting 9-for-14 on the way to 21 points, hitting 3 3-pointers, grabbing six boards, dishing out seven assists, and contributing a couple of steals.
The over/under points total has been set at 195.5 points in this game, reflective of the excellent defense of both sides, but expect this one to go over. Utah have been playing a faster paced game style of late, and five of their past six games have gone over this total, many of them comfortably.
This will be a close battle between two of the better defensive teams in the game. Both teams will come out firing, and put up in excess of 50 points each in the first half.
Their defenses will tighten up in the final quarter when things get tight and expect a low scoring final term. Utah will manage to hold on at home though, and will earn themselves an important 103-98 victory.
The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Tip-off is at 9:30pm ET.