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On the NBA Beat Ep. 2.32: Zach Harper: With Continuity, Jazz Could Become “Best Non-Warriors Lineup in NBA”

Before this season, the Utah Jazz had made their last postseason appearance in 2012 and hadn’t won a playoff game since 2010. Since then, they bottomed out at 25 wins in 2013-14, then steadily built themselves back up by developing players, finding diamonds in the rough, and, this season, adding some key veterans to their squad. Now, up 3-2 on the Los Angeles Clippers and heading home to Utah for Friday’s Game 6, they’re on the brink of advancing to the next round to face the Golden State Warriors. Zach Harper, an NBA columnist for Fan Rag Sports, twice-a-week participant on ESPN’s TrueHoop Podcast and co-host of the Salt City Hoops Show, takes us through that journey. He breaks down what we can expect for the rest of the Jazz’s postseason, explains how they’re so dangerous on both sides of the court, looks at some big decisions looming ahead in the offseason and tells excellent stories and more. Not to toot our own horn, but you can sample some mellifluous excerpts below:

7:19-8:07: “You’ve allowed the Jazz to kind of dictate so much of the tempo to be a slow, grind-it-out game, and that’s what they want. They want to play at that slow pace. They want to force you to defend for 24 seconds. They want to force you to attack late in the shot clock against them and have to panic into shots and everything. So that’s the tough thing for the Clippers, and maybe why Game 5 was a little bit of a must-win. Just because you can’t be back against the wall while also not being able to play the brand of basketball you want to play in a series. With that said, the Jazz are looking at Game 6 as a must-win, because they don’t want to go back to LA. I kind of think that’s a mistake. It puts an unnecessary amount of pressure on the home team, especially one with such a young core.”

11:58-12:41: “A lot of people locally will say it [the team MVP] has been Rudy Gobert because [of] the defensive impact. Gordon [Hayward]’s a really good defender. He plays really well defensively within that system, and he’s so vital to them offensively that, to me, it’s just enough to edge out what Gobert’s been able to do, who might be the Defensive Player of the Year and was the second-best pick ‘n roll big man this year in the NBA, but Gordon, his patience…you see so many star wings go into this hero mode and this iso[lation] mode and maybe rush shots and rush possessions, because you have to make sure you get a shot off, right? But Gordon just always plays within the flow of the offense and doesn’t really force anything, doesn’t take bad shots.”

18:09-18:42: “There’s a shot of it [Joe Johnson’s game-winning shot in Game 1 of the series] where it’s zoomed on him [Johnson] as he gets the ball on the left wing and he’s squared up against Jamal Crawford, and you see the Jazz bench. You see Trey Lyles, you see Alec Burks, you see these guys on the Jazz bench. And there’s no, ‘Oh my God, I hope he hits this. This is such a moment.’ This is like an AND1 Mixtape Tour. They’re like, ‘Go get him. Go get him.’ They’re yelling, ‘Expose him.’ It’s everything. I’m sure someone’s yelling ‘Worldstar’ in the background. They know something bad’s gonna happen.”

29:36-30:15: “The one thing about the Clippers, though, is they were very successful against him [Gobert] in the regular season, and granted, that’s the regular season…but they’ve talked about how they don’t really change the way they play just because he’s in the game. They’re gonna run the same stuff, they’re gonna attack the same way, and I believe that. It’s up to Gobert to win that battle. But for the first most part in the regular season, DeAndre Jordan outplayed him in those head-to-head battles, and that’s something that I think sticks with Gobert [and] makes him want to close out this series and prove that he should have been the All-Star over DeAndre, he should be [on] the All-Defensive First Team over DeAndre. I think there’s a huge individual proving ground for him, especially with the national spotlight on him.”

30:59-31:34: “Before the regular season or maybe early in the regular season, I talked to a Western Conference executive and he said to me [that] when the Jazz acquired George Hill, his immediate thought was: ‘How is anybody gonna score on this team?’ They were a great defensive team despite the injuries last year with Raul Neto, Trey Burke [and] Shelvin Mack as their trio of point guards. So now you’ve added George Hill, who has a 6-9, 6-10 wingspan, who’s excellent playing the pick ‘n roll, who’s excellent helping down into the paint, who rebounds solidly as a point guard.”

33:38-34:25: “Dennis Lindsey has been brilliant drafting. He built a very good, young core that would have made the playoffs last season if it wasn’t for all those injuries…they’ve drafted extremely well and they knew, ‘Hey, we’ve got this good, young core. We struggled in clutch moments last season. Let’s bring in some veterans.’ They convinced Joe Johnson to sign a two-year deal. They traded for Boris Diaw when the Spurs needed cap room, and they traded for George Hill. They just seem to make the right moves every single time, and they got Dante Exum back from an ACL injury.”

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Music: “Who Likes to Party” by Kevin MacLeod