|2011-12 Head to Head Meetings|
||San Antonio (-14.5) 104 vs. Utah 89
||San Antonio (-2.5) 106 at Utah 102
||San Antonio (-10) 114 vs. Utah 104
||Utah (-4) 91 vs. San Antonio 84
Skinny: Despite a lockout-shortened season, San Antonio won 50 games again. That they managed to do that for an NBA-record 13th consecutive time will probably be spun into a negative by naysayers hanging on to the tired take that this team should be collecting Social Security, not another top seed in the mighty Western Conference.
Because Coach of the Year favorite Gregg Popovich was so cautious with his veteran key components down the stretch, the Spurs enter this first-round series completely healthy. That wasn't the case last year against Memphis, when an injured Manu Ginobili gutted through a debilitating elbow injury and his performance and team suffered for it. Although he's missed more games than any other Spur this season, Ginobili has been healthy the last two months and has scored 20 or more four times this month, a sign he's hitting his groove at the perfect time.
The Jazz can't be happy about that development, but considering the streamers that fell from the sky when they clinched this playoff berth with Tuesday's elimination of Phoenix, this particular group is just happy to be part of the postseason party. After missing out when Jerry Sloan resigned, Deron Williams was dealt and Tyrone Corbin dealt with a learning curve, Utah is again an above-average squad.
Al Jefferson ended a personal six-year drought between playoff appearances and will be the key to any realistic thoughts of an upset. He'll have to overcome the defense of Tim Duncan, whose impact at that end of the floor isn't what it used to be but remains formidable due to his length and savvy.
Tony Parker and Devin Harris have had playoff battles earlier in their careers when the Jazz point guard was still in Dallas, so look for that matchup to hotly contested. Harris has the size and speed to make Parker work and must have a great series if Utah is to have any shot.
No one can touch San Antonio's depth, which has been flexed all month as Popovich has juggled personnel to keep everyone fresh. It does help that the Jazz have gotten Josh Howard and Raja Bell back from major injuries this week. Youngsters Gordon Hayward, DeMarre Carroll and Alec Burks have been putting in work on the wing, but there's no question Corbin is likely to ride with his playoff-tested veterans once they knock some of the rust off.
Head-to-Head Matchups: San Antonio won three of four meetings with the Jazz, with the only loss coming on the second part of a home-and-home where Popovich opted to rest his Big 3, who had combined for 64 points and 24 rebounds to key a 114-104 win the night before.
Ginobili has only played in two of the meetings, but scored 23 points -- one off his season-high -- both times. Parker has gotten to the free-throw line against Utah more than against any other team he's seen this season, excelling by knocking down 27-of-28. Duncan is averaging 15 points and 10.7 rebounds against the Jazz, participating in all three wins.
Jefferson played in all four meetings with the Spurs and averaged 18 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, but tag-team partner Paul Millsap has really struggled, averaging only 11 points and 7.8 boards. He's just 5-for-15 in San Antonio (5 ppg, 5 rpg) and must step up his production there to keep the Jazz from digging themselves an early hole. Hayward averaged 10 points per game over the four meetings, but hit only 14 of 37 shot attempts.
Betting Notes: Count on being forced to lay heavy if riding the Spurs at home. The geezers have been lights out at AT&T Center, going 28-5 SU and 24-8 ATS. San Antonio has won and covered each of its last 11 games. Conversely, Utah has struggled outside Salt Lake City down the stretch and finished 14-19 ATS on the road. Prior to that April 9 loss, San Antonio had won six consecutive meetings, including three at Energy Solutions Arena. Four of the last six encounters have gone over the posted total.
Series Outlook: Jefferson has it in him to put the Jazz on his back and win a couple of games in this series, but this team isn't as skilled or deep as the Grizzlies were in San Antonio's 1-8 matchup a year ago. It really helps the Spurs that they have two full days before the series starts and then again prior to Game 2, which means they'll be extremely well-rested when the series shifts to the Utah. As a result, this is likely to be a short stint for the Jazz unless everyone plays over their heads. Considering they would need Bell or Howard to emerge as an ex-factor and neither enters the postseason in game shape, the deck is stacked against them. The Spurs should be able to wrap this series up in five games or less.