The Miami Heat have one more stop on their five game road trip, in Utah against Gordon Hayward and the Jazz. I'm sure everyone is ready for them to return to Miami, but there's one more pesky western opponent.
I got the chance to chat about the Jazz and the Heat with Steve Rawnsley (@therawns_nba), a Jazz and stat guru. Steve covers the Jazz for Utah Jazz Nation and is hanging tough in a rough season. The Heat play in Utah on Friday night, 9:00 PM EST.
Here's what he had to say.
Utah has really young core of players. What's the biggest thing, as a group, that they struggle with?
Well, when you lose nine in a row, it is tough to narrow it down to one (Jazz beat the Spurs on Tuesday). The biggest struggle right now is probably their ability to limit runs. Runs are a part of the game. 8-0 runs or so are not killers. However, 16-2 runs are. It just seems like the opponent goes on a huge run every game. Coach Spo preaches stay the course, and the Jazz are having a hard time with that.
While last year was really the first time the Jazz hit rock bottom, the Jazz are still young and immature. That can lead to a negative mindset. Instead of thinking how are we going to stop this, the thought is here comes another big run. This usually happens in the second quarter. The Jazz are the worst second quarter team being outscored by 5.2 points in the quarter (2nd worst is Brooklyn at -2.9). The run usually happens when Gordon Hayward is on the bench. The Jazz are 10.2 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court.
The Heat and Jazz have had their share of clutch moments in the past. What's a Jazz fan's perspective and view of the Miami Heat?
Jazz nation's opinion of the Heat is not much different than anybody else's. There are still some Heat haters in Jazz nation (I was one in the first year of the Big 3). At this point though, I think it has died down. I am not sure if this is a game that Jazz fans have circled anymore.
Personally, I respect the Heat. They are one of the best-run organizations. In sports there are certain franchises that are constantly good, and some are constantly bad. Most years the Heat have not been just good, but one of the best teams in the league over the past twenty years or so. They have had some down years, but not many. Pat Riley is a Hall of Famer after all.
There was a lot of talk about Dante Exum going into the draft. How's he looked so far and what do you think his ceiling is in the NBA?
His ceiling is sky high. It is tough to compare him to someone right now. You have to remember a few things. First, he just turned nineteen in the offseason. He is currently the second youngest player in the league behind Aaron Gordon. Aaron Gordon had one year of college experience. Exum was playing against Australian high school players a year ago.
Overall, I am very encouraged. The biggest knock on him was his shooting ability. He is shooting 34% from three on catch and shoots. Obviously, not great or even good, but if that is his "weakness" I am excited. 34% is not a bad place to start either.
His speed and first step are great. He doesn't have Ty Lawson's speed, or John Wall's first step quickness, but Exum is not too far behind. Defensively he is probably above average, without having a great understanding of defensive principles. With his speed and 6'6 body, he has the tools to be a force on the defensive end.
What are the Jazz going to have to do in order to beat the Heat on Friday night?
While the Heat are a much better team, I think the Jazz match up well with the Heat. The Jazz are 22nd in points per game, but are actually 11th in points in the paint. It is no secret that the Heat's interior defense is "soft."
Hayward is a much better driver than people give him credit for. He is shooting 63% inside the restricted area (some perspective: James Harden is shooting 55%). Derrick Favors has really stepped up and is finishing well when catching it on the move around the basket. Rudy Gobert is shooting just about 70% from the restricted area also. He is also a top five rim protector. The Jazz need to really hammer the Heat on the boards, as the Heat are one of the worst rebounding teams in the league.
What's your prediction for the game?
My prediction is the Heat will win a close game by five points.