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Game preview: Warriors at Jazz

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The Warriors travel to Salt Lake City to face off against the Utah Jazz tonight. Will the Warriors continue their early season dominance, or will the Jazz put a stop to the best start in NBA history?

Oh my.
Oh my.
Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has been written about the defending champions, and rightfully so. They've vanquished their first 18 opponents, usually by the third quarter, and have a point differential (16.0) that would equal the second or third leading scorer for most teams. Still, your record doesn't matter during the game, and the Warriors will probably have their hands full when the ball is tipped off tonight.

The Jazz, one of the few Western Conference teams to beat the Warriors last season, have looked like a dramatically better team since trading Enes Kanter for so little it makes the United States' purchase of Alaska look like an overpay ($7.2 million). Like Rudy Gay leaving the Raptors, the "addition by subtraction" principle has been realized in Utah, where Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors have solidified an interior defense that surrenders just 93.2 points per game (3rd in the league).

Utah boasts a young lineup, with their three oldest players (Trevor Booker, Elijah Millsap, and Joe Ingles) each coming into the game at just 28 years old. Their most experienced players have only been in the league for five years (Gordon Hayward, Favors, and Booker), and they start a rookie point guard, Brazilian Raul Neto, despite recently spending lottery picks on (dramatically improving) Trey Burke and (injured) Dante Exum.

All of that youth means some growing pains, and the Jazz (8-7) still have plenty of room to grow. Quin Snyder's offense hasn't been great, ranking 28th in points scored (95.5), though pace is a big part of that. The Jazz are 28th in shots attempted, but 18th in offensive efficiency. They should play faster, but the slow pace also hides the turnover problem;  a very solid 15.3 turnovers/game looks good (5th in the league) until you look at TOV%, which ranks them at #23 in the category. Still, we can see a lot of good for the future when we consider that this is just the second season under coach Snyder.

Gordon Hayward has been one of the most versatile players in the league, leading his team in scoring while dishing out crisp passes and pulling down his share of rebounds. Derrick Favors is in the discussion for "most underrated player in the league", and Rudy "the Stifle Tower" Gobert might be the best rim protector in the league. Alec Burks and Trey Burke have both shown significant improvement as the team's top reserves, and guys like Booker, Ingles, and Rodney Hood are quietly contributing significant minutes for the West's #6 seed.

A young team is always unpredictable, and the Jazz also boast a remarkable home court advantage, buoyed by a rabid fan base and thin air to rival Denver's. They also have nothing to lose, which often leads to great basketball. Between that and the Jazz' size and the lack of oxygen, the Warriors might have a hard time finding their legs while sustaining the focus and intensity needed to push the winning streak further. If the Warriors come out flat or can't push the pace, the Jazz could keep the game within striking distance.

The injury report says no Barnes, no Looney for the Warriors, and obviously head coach Steve Kerr is still recovering from his back injury (get well soon, Coach!). The Jazz are playing without the aforementioned Exum, Favors might miss the game due to a "personal matter", and starting two guard Rodney Hood is listed as questionable with back spasms.

Let's go Warriors!!!!!!!