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InsideHoops on the Utah Jazz
By Jeff Karl
Everyone knows why the Jazz win basketball games. It's the John Stockton and Karl Malone show. And a smart show it is, with pick and rolls, give and go's, and the like. Stuff that doesn't always end with a dunk, but usually with a layup or open mid-range jump shot. Swish. That's been Utah basketball for the last decade and a half.
It's been good. Usually great. But never the best.
Stockton is definitely slowing down, but if you check his stats he still shoots a very high field goal percentage and commits very few turnovers per assist he dishes out. Karl Malone is unaffected by age. He's presently 37 years old, but to suggest he's slowing down is silly. He isn't. Not yet, anyway.
Jeff Hornacek has retired, but in his place is John Starks. Starks isn't as consistent (or as smart) as Hornacek, but can play tougher defense. Watching various tough shooting guards post Hornacek up and overpower him was sometimes painful. It won't be as easy to do that to Starks.
The main reason the Utah Jazz won the Midwest division title last season was the injury to Tim Duncan.
They also lost important backup point guard Howard Eisley.
Getting Donyell Marshall will help toughen up both forward spots (ok, since Malone never needs rest, expect Marshall to split time at the 3 with Bryon Russell), and Danny Manning is useful off the bench as a 7th or 8th man. Also, Russell can pretend to be a shooting guard for stretches.
DeShawn Stevenson, currently 7 years old, could be a good player in a few years.
The team is currently looking at Stockton and Jacque Vaughn at point guard, John Starks and sometimes Bryon Russell at shooting guard, Donyell Marshall and sometimes Byron Russell at small forward, Karl Malone and sometimes Marshall and Manning at power forward, and Olden Polynice and Greg Ostertag splitting time at center.
Not bad at all. A very good, possibly great squad. But, it's the same old story for the Jazz: these guys appear very close to a championship caliber team, but they're just not quite there. They'll give the Lakers, Blazers and Spurs a tough run in the playoffs. If Utah manages to eliminate the Spurs, no one should be shocked. But, this squad doesn't look able to handle L.A. or Portland. The Suns could give them trouble as well, with as the only matchup advantage the Jazz would have is at the power forward spot.
If Utah doesn't pull off a championship this year, look for John Stockton and coach Jerry Sloan to possibly announce retirement. It'll be a sad day in basketball when either of those guys calls it quits. And if Stockton goes, Malone may want to follow. After winning all these years, there's no way Malone wants to spend his twilight years on a sinking ship.
Look for the Jazz to produce an excellent regular season, put up a furious battle in the playoffs, but get sent home in either the Western Conference semi-finals or finals.
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