Extra Pass: Jazz host Hornets in battle of top offensive teams

Published December 20, 2021, 3:00 PMMiguel Flores

After absorbing back-to-back home losses, the Jazz will try to bounce back by shutting down LaMelo Ball and the Hornets.

These days, the best NBA games to watch are the ones that aren't postponed. After all, the best ability is availability.

With that being said, you can still pump yourself up for tomorrow's game between the Charlotte Hornets and Utah Jazz, which you can watch live on NBA League Pass at 10:00 AM.

The Hornets score and give up a lot of points. They are second in offense and dead last in defense by rating. It doesn't help the Hornets’ metrics that they play at the fourth highest pace in the league. But this combination of stats illustrates why they’re so fun to watch.

You don’t need stats to figure out that LaMelo Ball is fun. He is the result of years of basketball's shift to a more guard-dominated style, taking all the fun things from modern point guards like Stephen Curry and Ricky Rubio. He’s flashy but still maintains substance in his game. He leads the Hornets in scoring (20.6 ppg), rebounding (7.6 rpg), assists (8.1 apg), and steals (1.9 spg). 

There’s a verve to how the Hornets play when LaMelo has the ball even with the slightest bit of pace. He’s the main reason the Hornets have won several close games this season. Add Miles Bridges’ career year (which has tapered off from a fiery start) and contributions from veterans like Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier. The Hornets should be much better than their 16-16 record, but their defense holds them back.

The lack of a solid center is the biggest hole in this lineup as Mason Plumlee has been struggling to stay healthy. Even when the veteran big is in the lineup, he’s fallen off noticeably from his peak years of production with Denver. PJ Washington is a solid stretch shooter, but he also doesn’t offer much in the way of rim protection. In Plumlee and Washington, the Hornets have two solid backup centers. 

This will certainly be their biggest problem tomorrow going against the superb Rudy Gobert. The French beanpole is having one of the best seasons of his career, averaging 15.1 points, 14.8 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks while shooting a Wilt-esque 73.3 percent from the field. Sure, he gets most of his shots from dunks and layups. But not all 7-footers can be as good at dunks and layups as Gobert.

Gobert’s value has always been in his consistency in the regular season. Every game, Gobert provides a security blanket for the Jazz defense, making sure no team gets easy shots at the rim. The Jazz rank third in defensive rating and first in rebounding percentage – categories buoyed mostly by Gobert.

The Jazz also scorch teams on offense, playing a revised version of the egalitarian offense they deployed last season. The Jazz’s 117.3 offensive rating is the best in the league with the next best offense (Charlotte) rating at 113.3. A four-point gap is a cavern for statistics like this, especially in the upper parts of the rankings.

While Gobert secures the defense, the Jazz’s solid core of guards keep the offense flowing. Donovan Mitchell is still this team’s top option with Mike Conley stabilizing most possessions. They also have a solid core of additional shooters in Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, and the heat-check master Jordan Clarkson.

The Jazz are coming off a pair of surprising, uncharacteristic home losses. It’s going to be tough to beat them in their building for the third time in a row as Utah holds a 20-9 record, good for third in the West. As usual, the Jazz are flying under the radar. That’s mostly their fault as their consistent regular-season success has consistently translated into disappointing playoff exits. Jazz fans have to get used to not getting much love in the regular season, until their team makes the Finals run they've been craving.

There’s a good chance the Jazz could just run the Hornets out of Salt Lake, but the Hornets have been full of surprises – good and bad – this season. If this goes awry, there’s still a solid game between the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers to watch out for at 11:30 AM on NBA TV Philippines via Smart GigaPlay app or Cignal TV. 

Paul George might be returning from a five-game absence tomorrow, just in time to meet the frisky Spurs, who have looked better lately after their shaky start.