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Preview: The Utah Jazz and the Process of Rebuilding

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The Warriors head to Utah on Tuesday night to face a Jazz team still struggling to get back on its feet

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Golden State Warriors (29-5) at Utah Jazz (13-25)

EnergySolutions Arena- Salt Lake City, UT

6:00 p.m. PST

TV: CSN BA (local) | Radio: KNBR 680

Buddy blog: SLC Dunk

We are a long time away from the Stockton Malone Jazz. Even the Deron Williams-Playoff Jazz seem far away.

Gone is Jerry Sloan, rugged basketball, and circling a trip to face Utah in Salt Lake City as a tough match up and a rough one for your basketball squad. This Utah Jazz team threw up the rebuilding flag and has gone into a full-tilt restructuring of its roster that has seen key players go (Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap) and replacements come to town via trade or draft (Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors).  They have put up the money to keep the roster foundations in place (paying Hayward good money to stay in a Jazz uniform for the next few years), and on paper had a great roster full of parts, paired up with a young motivated coach in Quin Snyder to put this team on the right track going forward. The issue is that by now we should be busy talking about what this team has become, however we are still wondering when the days of Stockton and Malone will come back.

What has been the Jazz's issue? Well, there are a few to name. They suffered a bad luck injury losing a young talent Alec Burks for the season, who at the time was giving them a formidable starting 5 who all were averaging in double digits for scoring. His left shoulder will leave him on the shelf until 2016, and with it has seem to lose the wing defender and great scorer that was complementing the pair of Favors and Enes Kanter inside. Trey Burke has tried to take over as the Stockton/Wiliams point guard role that has been a staple of past Jazz teams, but he only averages 5.1 assists and doesn't particularly scare anyone with his shooting skills.

Past the starting 5, the Utah roster takes a nose dive into its bench. Dante Exum is a project in the making, but hasn't been given the chance to develop on the court yet this season into the playmaker and facilitator he needs to be. They fill out with journeymen and spare parts that they hope develop into better role players, giving playing time to guys like Joe Ingles and Elijah Millsap as early tryouts for next season when they assuredly will have another high draft pick. A nine game losing streak spanning most of November has put this team out of contention in a tough western conference, and there are no sign of their schedule getting any easier.

With all that said, the Jazz are still an interesting collection of parts. Gordon Hayward has definitely developed into a serviceable professional, and with the investment the team has given him should be a key role in the rebuilding process. The front court is set, as Favors has shown all-star level play over the last 2 years, carrying the team at times on the offensive end as his low-post skills have continued to build. They continue to be a feisty team that could win on any given night, however their depth will show up when they run out of steam on back-to-backs and long road trips.

The Warriors come to town for their first visit to Utah this season, as both teams will be coming off multiple days of rest. The Warriors are setting out on a tough  week, starting in Utah, a quick stop back home for Miami, then taking a swing south through OKC and Houston. This four games in five nights will test the depth of a Golden State roster that is close to being 100% healthy, now featuring the three-All Star bench of Bogut Iguodala and Lee. If we spoke of Indiana as being a trap game, the Warriors sure need to put up the same red flags to make sure this too won't be overlooked as a "gimme" game before a tougher week ahead.

The good news is that this new roster and new mindset has handled these challenges well this season to this point. With different contributions coming from each player every night, there is no pressure for Klay Thompson to shoot lights out like he did against Indiana, as Steph Curry or Draymond Green can pick up the slack. And if Harrison Barnes isn't contributing as we need him? Iggy and even Justin Holiday are ready to step in to contribute.

And this is where these two teams differ — the Jazz count on their stars to win their games every night. They don't have the depth of roster and balance to afford to have Haywood have an off-shooting night. They need top-level play from their stars to win, where the Warriors currently have a fight for playing time with their proven stars.

It will be a complete team effort by the Warriors to get through this week ahead, and starting with the Jazz Tuesday night, lets see if they are up for the challenge.

Keys for the game

  • Run the Jazz off the court. A 101-88 win over Utah at home back in November was a game that wasn't as close as the scoreboard. The Warriors were up by 30 in the third quarter before the bench got blown out in the fourth. The key was the Jazz were taken out of the game early with fast break points, pressure defense and turnovers. Don't let this young team stay in the game, and put them out of it with a strong start.
  • Continue to balance playing time. A highlight of the roster depth this season has been the way that the team can ease its stars back into playing time after absences. Andrew Bogut has gotten the best of his 15 minutes per game since coming back because of Mo Speights playing great ball, especially in crunch time (though reports have Bogut coming back to the starting lineup on Tuesday). David Lee has been able to get his touch around the rim back by playing against back ups so far this season, and he is rounding back into shape nicely. Steve Kerr will continue this trend against Utah, getting guys like Justin Holiday and Iguodala balanced playing time to keep them in shape for the late season runs.

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Predictions

  • The Warriors run the Jazz off the court early and force this young team into turnovers that lead to easy baskets. They don't have to shoot the lights out as they will be passing circles around a soft interior defense for Utah, and this game is another blowout by the end of the third. The Warriors win going away 115-95.