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Archive for May, 2013

Karl Malone and Jazz owner Larry Miller

On March 9, 2007, the late Larry H. Miller spoke at length about Karl Malone during which Larry touched upon topics including the bickering he and Malone had, how Karl got himself motivated and how dependable Malone was every single game.

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For what it’s worth, I see no parallels between Karl and Larry’s spats and the war of words Jazz CEO Greg Miller and Malone had in February of 2012. Greg Miller’s comments sounded childish and petty, but I’m very glad he has since made amends and brought Karl back into the Jazz fold. The ultimate goal should be to build the best basketball team possible – not harbor grudges that could only hurt the organization’s image and marginalize their resources.

For the sake of the league – it’s better when a great like Karl Malone is able to stay connected to the franchise he played for. That’s not always the case when you consider the likes of Michael Jordan (Wizards, Bobcats), Larry Bird (Pacers – although he is from Indiana), Kevin McHale (Timberwolves), Isaiah Thomas (Raptors), and Patrick Ewing (Magic) – but hopefully Karl can remain a part of the Jazz for as long as he’s willing to be one. No NBA franchise has won more titles over the past 30 years than the Lakers (yes, it pains me to type that) and they’ve never been shy on putting former players such as Jerry West, Mitch Kupchack and Magic Johnson into their front office and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kurt Rambis on the bench as assistant coaches.

Maintaining connections to the past shouldn’t overshadow the ability to get the current job done, but if capable – those resources should be utilized to their fullest potential. The Jazz were privileged to have the greatest power forward in NBA history be apart of their organization for 18 seasons. It’s encouraging to see them putting aside their differences to take advantage of it.

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Karl Malone Low-Post Repetoire #2

On Wednesday, Greg Miller and Karl Malone announced on live-radio that Karl Malone would be working as a “big man coach” for the Utah Jazz on a part-time basis. The long-awaited move, which fans (and Karl Malone) have been beseeching Jazz management to consider for months, brought a sense of relief to fans that finally the organization was committed to developing their two bigs drafted third overall – Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.

Despite the fact that the catalyst for finally bringing in outside resources was actually Derrick Favors himself rather than the dormant Jazz front office, the end result is Karl Malone will be tutoring Favors and Enes Kanter which is definitely a positive sign.

At this point, the most pressing questions pertain to what Karl Malone will actually teach Favors and Kanter. Obviously, credentials including the #2 all-time leading scorer and 2-time league MVP speak for themselves, but for those who didn’t have the opportunity (or blessing) to watch Karl Malone play live – or perhaps have forgotten details of his game in the 10 years since he’s last worn a Jazz uniform – here’s a refresher course.

Let’s start with a quick review of Karl Malone’s offensive repertoire outside of running Utah’s vaunted pick&roll with fellow Hall-of-Famer John Stockton. (Note: Each move/shot contains one specifically-linked-to, single-play example in case any further clarifying is needed beyond the descriptions).

Left-block repertoire: Sweeping hook shot going middle (example), pseudo-left-shoulder jump hook in which he kept both hands on the ball until it was above his shoulders (example), could roll into lane for over-hand baby-hook (example), roll into lane for under-hand scoop shot (example), dribble-pound fade-away jumper off left-shoulder (example) and right-shoulder (example), no-dribble half-turn fade-away (example).

As teams began to assign 7-foot centers to guard Karl due to his superior strength – Malone developed a deadly face-up game stepping off the left block in which he would reverse pivot with his left foot and either pop a 15-foot baseline jumper (example) or drive hard baseline and finish with his left-hand (example).

Right-block repertoire: Pseudo-jump hook keeping both hands on ball and kissing it off the glass, right-shoulder fall-away off both left leg (example) and right leg (example), and a very reliable and oft-used Jack Sikma face-up fall-away jumper (example and example).

This isn’t taking into account Malone’s ability to seal his man for an easy layup (example), draw fouls off his pump-fake (example), use his body to shield a defender to finish (example), or simply taking the ball right into the defender’s chest with the sole intent of getting to the free throw line (example).

Malone also became one of the best passing bigs in the league – both from the low-post (example) and high-post (example).

Perimeter: In addition to his baseline jumpers, Malone made himself one of the best mid-range jump-shooting bigs in the league – extending his range out to a reliable 20-feet. In Jazzbasketball – one of Malone’s favorite spots was the high-right elbow which he would get to out of Utah’s UCLA-set in which he would catch and swing the ball through for either an 18-foot jumper (example) or if played tight would drive hard right (example).

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How Much Can Translate to Favors and Kanter?

With all of that said, in all practicality I don’t think specific “Karl Malone moves” will be the primary result from Malone’s tutelage of Favors and Kanter, nor should it be initially. Favors and Kanter have one advantage right now that Karl didn’t have – and that’s more height and standing reach to the point they can get their shot off cleanly without utilizing their body (leaning in, falling back) to always gain an advantage. Rather than overwhelm them now with too many items on the menu, ideally Karl could teach them 1 or 2 basics that they could then try to hone throughout the offseason. It took Karl 10-15 years in the league to master all of the moves listed above. For two 21-year olds – pick one move (it doesn’t have to be a Malone move) and like Karl Malone did – work on it, master it, then add another move next offseason and repeat the process.
Beyond that, I presume the biggest benefits Malone will have for them are in much broader areas.

Obviously Malone’s legendary work-ethic and physical fitness speaks for itself and hopefully will rub-off. On the court – so could some simple yet hard-to-master nuances – like teaching Kanter to establish deep-position, and to use his body to seal his man (the goal being to get more “paint catches” as well as protect the post-feeder which Kanter often times leaves hanging out to dry by not keeping his defender on his back). Malone could teach Favors to keep both hands on the ball to power through (instead of shooting through) a defender’s outstretched arms in the paint. He could teach them both the importance of conditioning and running the floor hard. Karl Malone didn’t run hard just to get fastbreak dunks from John Stockton – he also ran hard to tire out his man to make his job easier as the game wore on.

Kanter has shown he can get up and down the court in transition and although Favors has shown flashes, I often saw Derrick loafing a bit when the Jazz gain possession (in fairness to Favors, he’s usually the last line of defense and also knows the chances of him getting the ball on a delayed fastbreak are small).

Similar to how Stock helped Deron Williams learn the “spots” in the flex that he could get his shots in 2006, Malone could teach Favors and Kanter how to set their man up on cross-screen action and get point-blank looks at the basket (the cross-screen action that the Jazz under Corbin have partially scrapped because Al Jefferson can’t score while catching the ball on the move). With Favors’ and Kanter’s mobility and physical 3’s (in Marvin Williams and hopefully DeMarre Carroll)  – Utah could get more easy paint points with smart and hard cross-screen action.

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As you can see, there are a myriad of things Karl Malone could teach Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Only time will tell the effectiveness of Karl’s instruction and the ability of Favors and Kanter to process and translate that onto the court. Until then, the biggest questions will pertain to what Karl is specifically working with Derrick and Enes on – but they are certainly ones Jazz fans can look forward to finding the answers on.

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The Shot Filmstrip

16 years ago today, the most glorious 2.8 seconds in Utah Jazz history concluded with Greg Gumble uttering the sweetest words a Jazz fan has ever heard:
John Stockton sends the Utah Jazz to the NBA Finals!”

John Stockton – The Shot

The celebration didn’t end Thursday night at The Summit. An estimated 20,000 Jazz fans gathered at 3:00AM to welcome the team plane back from Houston and the players joined in the celebration. Chris Morris rode through the crowd on the hood of a car waving a purple Jazz flag and Antoine Carr high-fived fans with tears in his eyes. For the next two weeks, the entire state of Utah was high on basketball and Jazz fans worldwide were high on the Jazz. With the team in the NBA Finals for the first time ever – there was an outbreak of “Jazz Fever” and it was spreading quickly:

Jazz Fever

After 23 seasons filled with a combination of disinterest, failure, hope, perseverance, turmoil and heartbreak – the Jazz had finally broken through to the NBA’s grandest stage. They did so in dramatic fashion with a storybook ending authored by one of the franchise’s two-most beloved players.

Until the day comes when the Jazz finally hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, this will be as good as it gets. And championship or not – this was still pretty good.

The Shot

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6 years ago today, one of the great NBA Officiating Travesties (that didn’t involve Dick Bavetta or Bob Delaney) took place as the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Utah Jazz 91-79 to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the 2007 Western Conference Finals. The Spurs would win Game 5 at home and eventually sweep an over-matched Cavaliers team that surely would have lost to any of the top five Western Conference teams in the NBA Finals.

Spurs at Jazz – 2007 Conference Finals – Game 4 Officiating Highlights

There is no question the officiating was one-sided and ultimately determined the outcome of a game in which Utah somehow managed to hang within a single point with less than 10-minutes to play and was within 4-points with 4 1/2 minutes remaining. The Jazz, still riding momentum from their Game 3 blowout, held the Spurs to under 41% shooting while shooting over 47% themselves against San Antonio’s 4th-ranked FG% defense that limited opponents to 44% shooting in the regular season.

Unfortunately for the Jazz, they were unable to overcome the misfortune of having the refereeing crew of Steve Javie, Ken Mauer and Joe DeRosa assigned to work their game in front of the passionate Utah fans. Javie and Mauer take pleasure in being “jerks,” and love the prospect of having the power to enrage an entire arena. At a point early in the game they decided they simply weren’t giving Utah the benefit of the doubt on any 50/50 whistle.

That’s what made their performance so diabolically genius. In the NBA – the majority of the calls are judgement calls. A traveling violation or a personal foul could be called on virtually every possession. It isn’t the job of the officials to make every single call – as much as it is to be consistent at both ends. Most of Javie’s calls were by-the-book correct – but when compared to the other end of the court were blatantly biased. It’s why when a Utah player went “straight-up” with their arms and a Spurs’ player initiated contact the end result was two free throws – and why when a Jazz player (such as Paul Millsap or Deron Williams) did the same it was a no-call. As a result, a Utah team that averaged 30 free throw attempts in the regular season and 29.3 in the first 3 games shot just 2 FT’s in the 4th-quarter. Conversely, a Spurs team that averaged 24 FT attempts in the regular season and 27.7 in the first 3 games shot a ridiculous 25 free throws in the 4th-quarter of a game that had a 1-point margin after three quarters.

Overall, San Antonio was clearly the better team in 3 of the first 5 games, but this officiating injustice likely was the difference between a 5-game series going to atleast a Game 6 or 7 in a postseason where Utah had already rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win a Game 7 on the road against the higher seed.

All of this leads to a much broader question:
Do NBA officials decide who wins and loses games?

This has been discussed a great deal to the point conspiracy theorists believe every single thing that happens from games to trades to the draft lottery is somehow masterfully controlled by David Stern.

This is my opinion: Most of the time the officials do not determine who wins and loses NBA games. The best teams (which often have the best players) win the games they deserve to. However – occasionally with certain officials in certain circumstances, there’s no doubt in my mind officials can and have done their best to sway the outcome. I think the officials who do this fall into two different categories:

1) The officials who operate in the “best interest of the league.”

This is Bob Delaney and Dick Bavetta swinging Game 6 of the 2001 WCF between the Kings & Lakers to force a Game 7. For Jazz fans, this is Bob Delaney and Dick Bavetta swinging pivotal Game 5 of the 2008 Conference Semifinals (tied 2-2) between the Jazz and Lakers in LA. Similar with Danny Crawford and the 2006 NBA Finals between the Mavericks and Heat, and Bavetta with the infamous shot-clock violation in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals.
Bavetta Eisley Shotclock Violation
A relative phenomenon of this is “star calls.” Officials operate knowing that it’s in the league’s best interest if the Kobes, LeBrons, and Wades score a ton of points – and if they get a few extra free throws that a role-player like Paul Millsap normally wouldn’t get – in the big picture that’s viewed as being “in the best interest of the league.” It sells  more jersey’s if a “star” averages over 25 points thanks to a few extra free throws than if he averages 20 from unbiased calls.

Similarly, it’s much more legendary and marketable if Michael Jordan hits the championship-winning jumper over Bryon Russell, than if he’s called for an offensive foul and the Jazz end the Bulls’ dynasty in Game 7 with an injured Scottie Pippen. In 2002, it was far more marketable to have a Game 7 in the Western Conference Finals and then a Kobe-Shaq three-peat than a Kings-in-6 Conference Finals and a championship parade in the city of Sacramento.

Again in the big-picture officials can’t and don’t control which teams win championships, but at times they influence and do their best to sway an outcome one way or the other.

2) The officials who hold or develop a personal agenda/vendetta.

Obviously – this includes Steve Javie’s Game 4 performance in the 2007 WCF. It’s just Javie being Javie – an absolute jerk. Bennet Salvatore, Kenny Mauer and Joey Crawford will harbor similar grudges. If you push the wrong buttons they will do their best to screw you over for the rest of the game.

These personal grudges can expand from a single game to a playoff series or to a career. Bob Delaney harbored a grudge against Shaquille O’Neal throughout his career and that finally boiled over with a controversial ejection in 2004. (Shaq was ejected from a game in Utah where Delaney called both of Shaq’s technicals. Even as a life-long Jazz fan – I thought Shaq’s 2nd-T was a terrible call).

Also stemming from this ideal is when Jeff Van Gundy was fined $100,000 for claiming intelligence that league officials were specifically targeting Rockets’ center Yao Ming on certain calls. While there were certainly doubters that Van Gundy was crying wolf, a personal bias amongst referees certainly shouldn’t be a surprise considering the fair and impartial officials the league has employed over the past 15 years.

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So do the referees determine the outcome of most games? No, but they can and have influenced the outcome of several important ones. And despite that, we still watch 82 times per year, we still live and die during playoff games, and we still follow every offseason move. To me, this demonstrates the main reason behind the league’s success and popularity isn’t due to unduly placing superstars on pedestals but rather is succinctly stated in its longtime slogan:
I love his game.”

NBA - I love this game

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Jeff Hornacek - Utah Jazz

Yesterday, Jazz assistant coach Jeff Hornacek agreed in principle on a 3-year deal (with a 4th-year team option) to become head coach of the Phoenix Suns. For someone with less than 3 full seasons of NBA bench experience, to advance from a second assistant to head coach of the team that drafted him in the city his family resides is nothing short of a “dream job.” Hornacek will certainly have his hands full, taking on a 25-win Suns team already with over $42 million on the books for 2013-14, but he has all the makings to be a successful head coach.

While it’s impossible to say precisely what his coaching identity will be – during Hornacek’s 14-year NBA career his playing style closely reflected a convergence of the philosophies of his two most distinguished coaches: Cotton Fizsimmons and Jerry Sloan. Hornacek brought some of Cotton’s up-tempo, run&gun style to the Jazz with a blend of pull-up jumpers in transition and the ability to improvise and make some of the most difficult off-balance floaters ever seen. He blended that perfectly into Jerry’s structured offensive system which in-turn flourished with his mixture of shooting, passing and ability to make plays off the dribble. More importantly, as a player Hornacek had grit, determination (former walk-on at Iowa State, second-round draft pick) and an understated competitive fire. Like all coach’s sons, Hornacek was a cerebral player who carved out what Bob Costas labeled in his final season “a near Hall-of-Fame career” – with guile, intelligence, and skill development.

Hornacek is also a very good communicator with an extremely personable demeanor who has endeared himself well to everyone he’s worked with, from players…

AK47 on Horny

…to owners. Former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo (who drafted Jeff) remarked “He was like a son in some respects.” Colangelo wasn’t the only owner Jeff Hornacek made a strong impression on. A common question the late Larry Miller often received was if he thought John Stockton would ever coach. Larry would say that while he didn’t foresee NBA-level coaching in John (or Karl’s) future, he did envision it in Jeff’s and that he hoped it would one day be with the Jazz. While it’s nice that Jeff got to start his coaching career in Utah, it does sting a little that he couldn’t receive his ultimate job at the place that has believed in his coaching ability the most.

Larry was far from the only member of the Utah Jazz who envisioned Hornacek being a good coach. In 2004, Hornacek interviewed for the Celtics head position despite having no NBA coaching experience whatsoever.
In 2008 – although he had only a year’s work as a part-time shooting instructor on his coaching resume – Hornacek interviewed for both the Suns’ and Bulls’ positions. Despite that lack of exposure, a current Jazz media personality along with a former teammate of Jeff’s both felt he was a strong enough candidate to be a great coach and land the Phoenix job in 2008 (audio link below):

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In sports – things normally don’t turn out as you hoped or expected. The ideal scenario I had envisioned starting in 2007 when Hornacek began working for the Jazz was always for Jeff to learn under the greatest coach in Jazz history and eventually take over when said legend would decide to leave on his own terms. While Jerry Sloan’s appalling departure is ultimately what made Hornacek a fixture on the Jazz bench – the vision remained with a new head coach who failed to impress as Jeff began to inspire and forge strong bonds with the players who hopefully will represent the Jazz’s future.

That’s what makes losing Jeff Hornacek hurt the most for the Jazz. Utah isn’t simply losing a bright assistant coach – they’re losing a bright assistant coach who many hoped would be the answer to the coaching woes that have plagued the organization since Jerry Sloan stepped down. It’s one thing to lose something you don’t really need. It’s another to lose something that has the potential to be exactly what you are lacking.

While the questions will linger about Jeff Hornacek’s experience (he has just 176 games of NBA bench experience – all of which came sitting to the right of a head coach Bill Simmons called “wildly incompetent“), he will now have the opportunity to gain that and he’ll get it starting with a poor team. Just like his early days at Iowa State and after being drafted, there will be low expectations. He’ll have a chance to grow as a coach, in a city that he loves with a fanbase that respects him. It’s a tremendous opportunity for Hornacek. It’s only a shame this chance isn’t coming in the place where many felt he would be a great coach all along.

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Happy Memorial Day everyone, and a special thanks to those who have and are serving!

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Vogel and Hibbert

Everyone loves to blame the coach. Sometimes the blame is justified, sometimes it isn’t. Nevertheless, when things don’t go well in sports the head coach is often the first and easiest target.

With that said, there’s nothing I respect more than hearing a high-profile head coach admit they were wrong. With today’s 24/7 news cycle and a media ready to pounce on every word, to admit to a game-changing mistake takes confidence, honesty, and as Bill Raftery would phrase it: “onions.”

I was further impressed by Indiana’s 39-year old head coach Frank Vogel as his Pacers played the NBA’s best team down to the wire for the second consecutive game, still less than 48 hours after Vogel’s highly questionable decision to bench Roy Hibbert late in Game 1. During the telecast, TNT’s crew mentioned that one of the first thing’s Vogel did in the lockerroom after Game 1 was tell the team he made a mistake not having Hibbert on the floor. Vogel echoed these sentiments in public to the media where he said “I would say we’ll probably have [Hibbert] in next time.”

That explained much of how Vogel (who at the age of 37 took over the Pacers with 38 games to go in the 2010-11 season and then coached them to a 42-24 record with no training camp in 2011-12) has quickly earned the respect, trust and loyalty of his collection of blue-collar, no-nonsense players. It’s also shows why the player who had the most reason to feel bitter – Roy Hibbert – tweeted this after Game 1:

Hibbert Tweet

A lot of times young coaches who aren’t confident in their ability (or job security) will defend decisions that didn’t work out by blaming it on their players’ execution. Even though nobody would’ve questioned Vogel’s choice had Paul George not played soft defense in allowing LeBron to catch the ball 17-feet from the basket and then convert one of the easiest layups he’s ever had – Vogel (rightly so) didn’t blame his 3rd-year pro. He explained his thought-process during the timeout while admitting next time he would do things differently.

In Game 2 he did. His team played their tails off and in the final minute his adjustments (not switching LeBron/PG screen-roll like they did in Game 1 and primarily leaving Hibbert in the game) resulted in two James’ turnovers in the final minute.

Vogel’s willingness to take the blame reminded me of Jerry Sloan’s post-game press conference following Utah’s Game 6 and series win over Denver in 2010. There was a situation late in the 1st-half when Paul Millsap was cut, and amidst the confusion Jerry puzzingly substituted both Millsap and Kyle Korver (replacing Korver with D-League call-up Othyus Jeffers). The confusion backfired when Utah missed a technical free throw on the ensuing possession with Korver (Utah’s best FT shooter) on the bench. Jerry immediately sent Korver back into the game at the next whistle.

Following the 112-104 win, Jerry closed his press conference by praising his team before bringing up his own mistake without any prompting:
“…We had a lot of guys play well…I just about screwed us up with the substitution that I did. I’m glad we won the game, but I kinda got screwed up there when Paul got hurt and had blood on him and instead of making one mistake I turned around and made two in a row…so that was a mistake on my part. That won’t be the last one either. Anybody else? Thank you.”

Sloan’s post-game display of humility was not an isolated incident.

The late Larry H. Miller, Utah’s beloved owner for nearly 24 years, said in a 2007 radio interview that Jerry regularly accepted responsibility for his mistakes to his players in the locker room.

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Just as the Utah Jazz competed hard every night for Jerry Sloan regardless of the odds – the Indiana Pacers have fully bought into Vogel’s sell-job that they are good enough to beat a team that had won 46 of their last 49 games prior to Game 2.

In March Madness you’ll see a Cinderella team make a push and have their confidence snowball, but in the NBA the best teams win in a best-of-7 series. The Pacers are huge underdogs to the Heat, yet it’s obvious they have no fear and every single player on the court believes they are the better team. That attitude and mindset starts at the top.

This whole team is showing great desire and great heart and great belief,” Vogel said after their Game 2 victory. “They believe we can win the series.”

They also believe in their head coach, because he’s given them reason to.

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Jazz at Lakers - Gm 4 - 98 WCF - 5-24-98 Images

15 years ago today, the Utah Jazz swept the Los Angeles Lakers 4-0 and advanced to their second consecutive NBA Finals with a 96-92 victory in LA.

As discussed when looking back at Game 1 – the entire series proved to be a systematic dismantling of a 61-win Laker club featuring 4 all-stars and picked by virtually everyone to defeat the Jazz. No play, however, baffled the Lakers more than Utah’s vaunted pick&roll. Doug Collins once said, “The beauty of the pick&roll is you take what the defense gives you,” and there was no better display of that in Game 4. The Lakers tried virtually every possible way to defend screen-roll and Utah still found a counter to score.

Here we’ll break down the different ways Utah’s pick&roll dissected the Lakers’ defense.

Jazz at Lakers 1998 Pick and Roll #1

#1. Nothing complicated here (6:05-mark). 2nd-year point guard Derek Fisher chooses to go under on the screen. As a result, Jazz point guard Howard Eisley simply pulls up and drains an uncontested three-pointer.

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Jazz at Lakers 1998 Pick and Roll #2

2-a: Here (7:23-mark) the Lakers build a wall and force Stockton away from the screen and towards the baseline. (Traditionally this is how Phil Jackson teams have defended side screen-roll – with their objective to keep the ball out of the middle of the floor and toward the baseline where they can smother it with their length.)

Jazz at Lakers 1998 Pick and Roll #3

2-b: Stockton&Malone have seen this a few times. Stock probes toward the baseline to force the Laker big to help, and Malone reads the gap and automatically slips to the basket as Stock hits him in stride with a perfect pocket bounce-pass. The Lakers weakside defense has to rotate to Malone prior to the pass. Once Malone catches the ball barreling toward the rim it’s too late.

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Jazz at Lakers 1998 Pick and Slip #1

3-a: This (7:55-mark) is Utah’s side screen-roll they like to run directly out of their UCLA shuffle-cut. Laker bigman Corie Blount plays Malone tight and is ready to show-out on Hornacek (one of the best shooters in the league).

Jazz at Lakers 1998 Pick and Slip

3-b: But the screen never comes. Hornacek recognizes Blount is over-playing Malone high, and a subtle nod has the Mailman slipping the screen and delivering a layup over weak-side help-defender Elden Campbell (circled) who arrives too late to prevent the basket.

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Jazz at Lakers - 1998 Pick and Roll Trap #1

4-a: Moving forward to the 2nd-half (9:22-mark) the Lakers adjust and trap hard on Jazz point Howard Eisley. Eisley reads this, and buys enough time backpedaling with the ball to give himself a clean window to split the double-team with a bounce pass to Malone (circled).

Jazz at Lakers 1998 Pick and Roll Trap #2

4-b: Once Malone catches the ball, the Jazz are playing 4-on-3. The Lakers rotate to Malone from the weakside leaving a wide-open Greg Ostertag (circled) diving to the rim.

Jazz at Lakers 1998 Pick and Roll Trap #3

4-c: Ostertag makes LA pay with the dunk.

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Jazz at Lakers 1998 Pick and Roll #6

5-a: In 2-a and 2-b we saw LA force Utah’s side screen-roll baseline. Knowing LA’s tendancies, here (9:35-mark) Malone steps up and screens baseline.

Jazz at Lakers 1998 Pick and Roll #7

5-b: Malone picks off Eisley’s man (Kobe) and this forces Malone’s defender (Elden Campbell) to come up on Eisley. This gives Malone a wide-open lane once he pivots and opens himself up to the passer as he rolls off the screen.

Jazz at Lakers Pick and Roll #8

5-c: Again this is an automatic pocket bounce-pass Jazz point guards have executed to perfection and Malone converts at the rim as the weak-side help arrives too late.

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Jazz at Lakers Pick and Roll #9

6-a: And finally, another side-screen roll (10:00-mark) but this time LA doesn’t force it baseline and allows Utah (Eisley w/the ball) to go middle. They also choose to stay with the screener (Malone), putting the onus on their weak-side defense to rotate to stop the ball. Kobe (circled) has to drop off his man (#34 Chris Morris).

Jazz at Lakers 1998 Pick and Roll #10

6-b: Once Kobe made his rotation, the backside defender (Eddie Jones) must make his. Jones must run at Chris Morris and force him to swing the ball to Shandon Anderson in the deep corner.

Jazz at Lakers 1998 Pick and Roll #11

6-b: Jones doesn’t rotate and Morris knocks down a wide-open three.

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The Jazz were always 2-steps ahead of LA. Whatever LA tried to do, Utah had a counter for it. The Lakers were more athletic and physically gifted, but the Jazz were smarter, tougher and played better as a team. Their sum was greater than their parts and together they capitalized on the Lakers’ youth and inexperience with one of the most enjoyable playoff series in franchise history.

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