1. Deron Williams is the best point guard left in the Western Conference
In a conference that has Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups and Tony Parker all vying for the opportunity to represent the West in the NBA Finals, that is saying a lot. But its true. Williams averaged nearly 12 assists after the All-Star break, and he kept his team competitive each and every night when injuries to Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer could have potentially caused them to slip out of the playoffs. Williams has all the intangibles you want from your point guard: He can get to the rim, he’s a threat to score or dish when he gets there, and he’s aggressive on the defensive end of the floor. Billups and the Denver Nuggets will be standing in front of Williams, and that’s a tough matchup for any team (as the Lakers found out during last year’s playoffs). But Coach Jerry Sloan has to feel a lot better about that matchup, knowing that his point guard can give Billups all that he can handle and then some.
2. AK-47 will be back
When I was reading previews about the upcoming Nuggets/Jazz series, all I kept reading was how much of a game changer Nuggets guard J.R. Smith can be on any given night. He’s a legitimate threat to go for 30 points on any given night, and if he gets hot from three-point land, the 40 point mark is not safe either. But the Jazz have that same type of game changer in Kirilenko. He’s been injured since mid-March, but when the Jazz played the Wizards last month, I asked him about Kirilenko, and he seemed to think that AK-47 would return for the playoffs. He has been practicing and running drills with the team, and all indications are that he will indeed play.
Kirilenko’s defense is very similar to the way LeBron James plays defense. He’s a good on-the-ball defender, but he can play free safety and get steals that way, and he can block shots from the weak side. And at 6’9′ he can create matchup issues on the defensive end–specifically against a shooter like J.R. Smith. On the offensive end, Kirilenko is not a big scorer, but he possesses the ability to get out on the fastbreak, and be on the receiving end of a Williams’ pass or alley-oop. That type of versatility has been missing from the Jazz lineup, and a healthy AK-47 could definitely make a difference.
3. The Boozer factor
Going into this season, it was far from a given that Carlos Boozer was going to be a member of the Utah Jazz. He and management traded tense statements in the media last offseason, and during the season there were rumors abound that a Boozer trade was imminent. But Boozer never went anywhere, and he put up consistent 20/10 numbers all season, right up until his injury earlier this week.
Boozer strained his oblique muscle on this right side on Saturday, and it caused him to miss the last two games of the season. According to True Hoop, when asked whether he would about his availability for Saturday’s opening playoff game against the Nuggets he said he was playing, “no matter what”. That statement alone told me three things:
1)Boozer is well aware that he is a free agent after the season is over and he wants to make a good impression
2)He will be totally focused and intense as long as the Jazz are in the playoffs, and that will make this first round series against Denver very interesting.
3)Kenyon Martin better bring his “A” game.