Utah Jazz vs. Toronto Raptors Pick
Utah Jazz (18-19, 18-18-1 ATS) vs. Toronto Raptors (27-11, 15-22-1 ATS)
When: Tuesday, January 1st, 2018 – 7:30 pm ET
Where: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto, Ontario
By: Kyle Cash, NBA Basketball Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: UTA +3.5/TOR -3.5 (MyBookie)
Last Night in the NBA
2018 ended with a bang, and that bang was the sound of the Boston Celtics’ Finals aspirations slamming into a wall. More importantly, we ended the year with a nice 8-1 stretch that paid for my $740 New Year’s Eve dinner with friends. In one wallet pocket and out the other.
Almost any other player with a 40-point triple-double would absolutely floor me, but for James Harden, it’s just business as usual. We also ended the year with a Golden State Warrior pummeling of the lowly Suns and Anthony Davis missing a game due to a nagging injury. My 2019 resolution is to keep AD healthy. Can we just see it for one season? Is that so hard?
Let’s celebrate the start of 2019 with an interesting match-up in Canada between the Toronto Raptors and the Utah Jazz. With Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas still on ice, the Kawhi-led Raptors are currently 3.5-point favorites over Utah’s finest with the total set to a paltry 212 points. Let’s get this party started!
It’s a wild, wild Western Conference, and the Jazz haven’t exactly had the start to the season that they anticipated. They’ve been in a constant state of “one step forward, one step back,” and with their lack of elite talent, it’s been a struggle for them to gain solid footing. Donovan Mitchell is, on paper, their go-to scorer, but as I’ve lamented (and laughed at) repeatedly, he’s more of a go-to shooter. Beating up on the Knicks is fine. It’s the cool thing to do – everybody’s doing it. But a date versus the Raptors? Now it’s time to see if you’ve got the goods.
In order to slay the dragon, the Jazz are going to need to start 2019 the same way that they started 2018. They already have the defense down – they’ve climbed all the way up to 5th in Defensive Rating, and Gobert is as stifling of a tower as he’s ever been. But their 21st-ranked offense has been plagued by inefficient scoring and turnover problems, and with the potential of another Rubio-less games, the onus is on Donovan to share the rock. While he’s on a different team, it’s worth noting that Danny Green got lit up like a Christmas tree against Mitchell last season for 30 points per game in two contests, and there’s always a possibility that the Donovan of old will rear his ugly, high-scoring head. If not – well, then it all comes down to Jinglin’ Joe Ingles. There’s worse guys that are last resorts.
After a blistering start to the season, the Raptors have predictably cooled considerably, and the injury bug has depleted their once rich reservoir of talent. Kyle Lowry is suffering a bad case of chubby-itis, and Toronto is going to need more than a Fred VanVleet/Delon Wright backcourt can provide if they want to reach their full potential. The New Year should bring about the end of the Kawhi minute restriction schedule, and we may see the Toronto-bot becoming self-aware enough to cause some serious damage. That 20-4 team is still in there somewhere – now it’s on them to figure it out again.
The Raptors looked like the championship favorite less than a month ago, and hopefully they can regain some of that form versus the Jazz on Tuesday night. Toronto is still 1 of only 4 teams that rank inside the top-10 in both offensive and defense efficiency, and their ability to create opportunities for scoring on either end is what puts them a cut above their fellow Eastern Conference foes. Both teams play around league-average in terms of pace, but Toronto would be wise to use their small-ball lineup to force Gobert off of the floor with a high-paced, run-and-gun style of play. First year head coach Nick Nurse has Toronto jacking 3s at an elite clip, but they surprisingly rank in the bottom-6 in outside shooting efficiency. If the Raptors can find a way to parlay their elite mid-range shooting into competent outside shooting, it’s going to be a long night for the Utah Jazz.
It’s bizarre and frightening to think that the 11-seed in the West is about on par with the 1-seed in the East, but that may just be the world that we’re living in. Think of it in the opposite capacity: how much would the 2-seed Warriors (the real best team in the West) be favored by at home versus the 11-seed Washington Wizards? 12? 22? But the Jazz have been feisty, and they’re nearly impossible to predict. Through 37 games, Utah’s longest win streak is 3 and their longest losing streak is 4. It’s a zigzag team, and since they just zigged in a 32-point rout of the Knicks, I am forced to believe they will zag in their match-up with Toronto. The Raptors own a fairly dominant 14-4 record at home this season, and although they’ve been inconsistent without Lowry, they have enough pieces to give the Jazz fits. Gobert is going to be neutralized when he’s 25-feet from the hoop guarding Ibaka, and Kawhi should take care of the rest. Here’s to a long and prosperous 2019!
Final Score Prediction: Toronto Raptors 108 – Utah Jazz 98