Five sides are separated by just 1.5 games in the lower playoff positions in the west, and two of them will square off on Friday night. The Jazz sit in eighth place with a 41-31 record, while just a game ahead in sixth are the Spurs, who have a 42-30 record.
Utah have won nine of their last ten, with the solitary hiccup coming in a surprising defeat to Atlanta earlier in the week. The Jazz bounced back immediately though, beating the Mavericks 119-112 yesterday.
The Spurs are in a handy little groove of their own, having won five straight to work themselves back into a good position to make the postseason. Their latest victory was an impressive 98-90 performance against the Wizards, in which LaMarcus Aldridge scored 27 points in just 31 minutes.
Three keys to the game
Aldridge’s form - The Spurs’ best player in Kawhi Leonard’s absence has been excellent all year, and was rewarded for his season with an All-Star appearance, but his last five games have been on another level. He is averaging 29.6 points and 9.0 rebounds in this time, and has scored at least 24 points in all of these games.
Who’s defense is better? - These are arguably the best two defensive teams in the league. Utah is third in defensive rating for the season, but in the last ten games they are easily first, allowing just 90.8 points per 100 possessions. During this time, their nearest rival is, believe it or not, the Spurs, who are allowing 97.6 points per 100 possessions in the past ten games.
Home court - This will be a major factor in this game. Utah are a sub .500 team on the road this season, but are 24-12 at home for a .667 record. The Spurs’ gap is even more significant. They are 28-8 at home, but 14-22 away. The Spurs home court advantage might be a big one.
Matchup to watch
LaMarcus Aldridge vs Rudy Gobert - Aldridge has been playing the center position of late, and against Utah he will find himself up against the best defender in the league. The Stifle Tower has been the main reason for the Jazz’s incredible defense of late, and since his return from injury they have been virtually unstoppable. Against Aldridge though, he will face a unique challenge. Better suited to defending in the paint, Gobert will be forced to venture out against a player who scores most of his points from mid-range.
At the other end of the floor, Aldridge might struggle with the size of Gobert, who, while not renowned for his offensive prowess, has been terrific of late. In his past ten games he averages 17.4 points, and is shooting 68% from the floor in this time.
Utah Jazz predicted starting lineup
PG - Ricky Rubio | SG - Donovan Mitchell | SF - Joe Ingles | PF - Derrick Favors | C - Rudy Gobert
San Antonio Spurs predicted starting lineup
PG - Patty Mills | SG - Dejounte Murray | SF - Danny Green | PF - Kyle Anderson | C - LaMarcus Aldridge
Rubio had one of the best scoring games of his career in the second game between these sides this season. The maligned shooter hit 11 of his 14 shots and went 3-for-4 from deep on the way to 34 points, while also dishing out nine assists.
In the same game, Aldridge did all he could to resist the onslaught of the Jazz, albeit in vain. He shot 12-for-19 from the field and finished with 31 points, five rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks.
The over/under points total is unsurprisingly set low at just 195.0 points, but the under is still a good bet. The two sides have boasted easily the best two defenses in the league for an extended period now, and both play at a pretty slow pace. Combine that with the fact that neither has an elite offense, and expect to see two teams in the 90’s come the final buzzer.
This will be a low-scoring, hard-fought affair, with both sides desperate to win a game which is effectively worth two. The game will be based largely around defense, with no player able to break out for a big game at the offensive end of the floor. Aldridge will drop in 20-25 points, while Gobert will score 15+, but in general both sides will struggle offensively.
The game will come down to the wire, but the Spurs' home court advantage will be enough to give them an edge. They’ll earn themselves an important victory, just holding off the Jazz to win 96-91.
The game will be broadcast locally on FSSW and ATTSN-RM. Tip-off is at 8:30pm ET.