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NBA Playoff Preview - Utah vs. Golden State

NBA Playoff Preview - Utah vs. Golden State

NBA Playoff Preview - Utah vs. Golden State
May 6th, 2007

(Sports Network) - The Northwest Division champion Utah Jazz and the surprising Golden State Warriors meet in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals.

This is the third time that these clubs have met in the postseason. Golden State knocked off the Jazz in five games, 3-2, during the first round of the 1987 playoffs and in three, 3-0, in the opening round of the 1989 postseason.

The fourth-seeded Jazz own the home-court advantage over No. 8 Golden State in the series.

Utah defeated the fifth-seeded Houston Rockets in seven games in the first round. The Jazz won Game 7, 103-99, at the Toyota Center to advance to the semis for the first time since 2000. The Rockets had the home-court advantage in the set since they had a better regular-season record.

Carlos Boozer, who scored 35 points and pulled down 14 rebounds in the decisive Game 7, led the Jazz in scoring (24.6 ppg) and rebounding (11.0 rpg) against Houston. Boozer shot 50.3 percent from the floor and came up big in crunch time for Utah.

Deron Williams, who is appearing in his first postseason and completed his sophomore year in the league, averaged 16.3 points, 5.0 boards and a team-best 8.4 assists in the opening round, while Mehmet Okur contributed 11.0 points and 8.1 boards.

Utah ended a three-year playoff drought by qualifying for this year's postseason. The Jazz last appeared in the playoffs in 2003, when they were eliminated in five games by the Sacramento Kings in the opening round.

Head coach Jerry Sloan has guided the Jazz to the playoffs for the 16th time during his tenure with the club. Sloan, who has been general on the Utah bench since the 1988-89 campaign, is 82-83 all-time in the playoffs, 80-79 with the Jazz, who are 5-6 in the Western Conference semis.

Utah's last series win in the semis was in 1998, when it knocked out the San Antonio Spurs in five, 4-1. The Jazz went on to sweep the Lakers, 4-0, in the West Finals, but fell in six, 4-2, to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the championship round.

The Warriors shocked the world with their stunning 4-2 series victory over the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. Two-time All- Star Baron Davis averaged team-highs in points (25.2 ppg) and assists (5.7 apg), while the volatile Stephen Jackson registered 22.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists against Dallas.

Golden State became just the third eighth-seeded team to defeat a one seed in the first round of the playoffs. Denver eliminated the Seattle SuperSonics, 3-2, in the first round of the 1994 playoffs, while the Knicks knocked out the Miami Heat in five, 3-2, during the opening round of the 1999 postseason. The Warriors are the first eight seed to knock out a one seed in a best-of-seven series.

High-flying Jason Richardson, who has spent his entire career with the Warriors and is participating in his first NBA playoffs, posted 19.5 points and 6.8 rebounds, while Matt Barnes, Andris Biedrins, Monta Ellis, Al Harrington and Mickael Pietrus all played a big part in Golden State's monumental upset.

The Warriors won their first playoff series since 1991 when they eliminated the San Antonio Spurs, 3-1, in the opening round of the postseason. Golden State, which had the longest playoff drought in the NBA, returned to the postseason for the first time since 1994, when it was led by Chris Mullin, Latrell Sprewell and Chris Webber. The Warriors were swept, 3-0, by the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the 1994 playoffs.

Veteran head coach Don Nelson returned to the bench for Golden State prior to the 2006-07 season. Nelson, who was general of the Warriors for six-plus seasons beginning in 1988, compiled a 277-260 record with the squad before resigning halfway through the 1994-95 season.

Nelson spent parts of eight seasons as the head coach of Dallas, and guided the Mavericks to four 50-plus win campaigns. He resigned as head coach on March 19, 2005 and served as a consultant with Dallas until being hired by the Warriors on August 30, 2006. Nelson is 74-82 all-time in the playoffs.

Against Dallas, Nelson shuffled his lineup and made life miserable for Dirk Nowitzki and Mavericks. He created matchup problems by playing "small ball." Nelson let his athletic players dictate the tempo of the contest and they pushed the ball up the court at every opportunity and took away any chance the Mavs had of controlling the series.

The last time the Warriors won a Western Conference semifinals series was in 1976, when they defeated Detroit in six games. They would lose in seven to Phoenix in the conference finals.

Golden State has lost four straight semifinals series. The Warriors were defeated by the Lakers in 1977, 1987 and 1991. They also lost to the Suns in 1989.

During the regular season, the Jazz and Warriors split four contests. Both clubs picked up a pair of victories at home.

FRONTCOURT: Okur, Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko, who averaged just 5.3 points and 3.1 rebounds versus the Rockets, are one of the top all-around frontcourts in the league. The 6-11 Okur can hit the outside jumper and has some low-post moves, while Boozer will do his best work off the boards and around the hoop. The athletic Kirilenko is not producing offensively like he once did, but he has been solid defensively

Nelson has a lot of flexibility. He used three different starting frontcourts against Dallas. Richardson was the one constant, while Barnes, Biedrins, Harrington and Jackson all saw at least one start up front in round one.

Biedrins and Harrington will share the duties in the middle, while Richardson has been playing as an undersized power forward and Barnes, who averaged 10.2 points, 5.5 boards and 3.0 assists versus the Mavericks, and Jackson have been effective shooting the outside jumper. If needed, Richardson, Barnes and Jackson can all play shooting guard.

Golden State's veteran coach will continue to do the same in the semis. He will find his most effective starting combination and go with it. Nelson will make adjustments if necessary, and is lucky to have versatile players who afford him this luxury.

Unlike Dallas, the Jazz have a center, Okur, who can handle being pushed outside and will be effective against the Golden State. Kirilenko may be able to get himself going against Golden State, while Boozer will continue to be awesome.


BACKCOURT: Davis, who tweaked his hamstring in Game 6 against Dallas, is the spark that makes the Warriors go. He showed against the Mavericks that he can do it all, and Golden State will go as far as he can take them.

Ellis, who started Games 1-5 in the first round, or Jackson will play alongside Davis in Golden State's starting backcourt. Ellis averaged just 8.2 points and shot under 40 percent from the field versus Dallas. If he finds his game, it will make the Warriors' rotation more potent and allow Nelson to continue to use Jackson at multiple positions.

Williams has become one of the top point guards in the league. The Illinois product can score and has a knack for getting the ball to his teammates at the right time. The 6-3 Williams can do it all and will be able to handle the red- hot Davis in this matchup.

Fisher, who registered 9.3 points and 3.3 assists against the Rockets, is a veteran who knows his role. He can handle the ball and is capable of knocking down the long jumper. The 6-1 Fisher, who completed his first season with Utah, won three championship rings with the Lakers and was acquired from Golden State last offseason for this time of year.

Call this matchup even.


BENCH: The Warriors have depth. Depending on who Nelson starts, Golden State has players who can play multiple positions and will fit right into the way its head coach wants to play.

Pietrus, Barnes, Biedrins, Ellis and Harrington all came off the bench during the opening round. Nelson went with an eight-man rotation, and the same can be expected in the semis.

Sloan will call on veteran swingman Matt Harpring, who can play small forward or shooting guard, Gordan Giricek, and big man Paul Millsap to play important minutes off the bench.

Harpring averaged 10.7 points and 5.6 boards in the opening round, while Giricek netted 7.1 and made and incredible 66.7 percent (8-of-12) of his shots from beyond the arc. Millsap shot 60 percent from the floor and played over 12 minutes per game against the Rockets.


PREDICTION: Golden State has been an exciting team to watch. The Warriors run in the postseason has been good for the league and the franchise, but it will come to an end here.


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