The NBA season is upon us... or at least it would be if this lockout had not lasted so long. The NBA season is a mere month away, and there will be a flurry of moves to make up for our lost offseason. So, with that in mind, it is time to begin opening the book on the 2011-12 season and to take a look at what the season might have in store -- especially when it comes to the Magic. Be sure to look out for more of these team capsules and to check out all the blogs taking part in this year's NBA Blog Preview (don't worry, I will be linking to all of them in the next few weeks).
The Previews: Basketball John/SLC Dunk
Whenever the Magic see the Jazz for the first time in 2012, it will be a very different team than the one the Magic saw last year. Orlando usually catches Utah early in the year. And both games were monumental in the eventual demise of the Magic. The first game at Amway Center saw Orlando blow a double-digit fourth quarter lead. The second game was simply a disappointing defensive effort that led to a players-only meeting. When the Magic returned from that West Coast trip, the trades happened and the season changed forever.
That Jazz team though is gone. Deron Williams, a noted Magic killer throughout his career, was traded to New Jersey. Not before he took Jerry Sloan with him in a surprising mid-season retirement.
Utah is in a state of flux that many people probably cannot remember. This was always one of the most consistent franchises in league history -- Sloan was coach since 1988 and the team went to the Playoffs every year from 1983-2003 and started up a new streak from 2007-10. Last year was very strange with the dissention in the ranks and the trade of Deron Williams.
So what is left on the Jazz? Who is this new band?
The thing is, Tyron Corbin is a Jerry Sloan disciple. Yes, he is a different person and does not have the same cache as Sloan did. Nor does he have the same players. Devin Harris has not quite figured out how to recapture the magic that enabled him to be an All Star in 2009. Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are great low post players, but are both tweeners who copy a lot of each other's skills.
Millsap is working to extend his range to play more small forward and Jefferson, while being one of the most talented and underrated low post scorers in the league, is undersized to play center. And neither are as good defensively as the traditional Jerry Sloan team would be. The same could be said for Harris, who is still learning and is forced into the primary scorer role even though that is not probably where he should be.
Tyrone Corbin has to implement his identity and his personality on this team. That is going to be the trick throughout the season. Corbin is going to keep things very similar to Sloan. He is a Sloan protege after all. He is going to try and instill defense into this team. The pick and roll game might not be the same, but the team will work inside-out and use slashers to create offense.
They have the players to do that.
Raja Bell and C.J. Miles are nice players to surround Millsap and Jefferson with. They copy each other in their skill sets and neither is going to be able to take over offensively. This is a team that will rely heavily on its three main players.
The real question is can this team go through growing pains?
Derrick Favors is extremely promising at center and will get some time to develop next to Jefferson and Millsap. The big question is Andrei Kirilenko. It does not look like Utah will be able to re-sign the team's defensive ace. He was a veteran player that gave this team balance. And it appears they will miss him more than Jerry Sloan.
Corbin will have his work cut out for him. And he will have to show a lot more patience than Sloan sometimes would. It could be another rebuilding year in Salt Lake City.
How the Jazz will beat the Magic: We still are learning who this Jazz team is and what they do in free agency is going to determine a lot of how this matchup goes. Orlando faced Utah early in the season before even Orlando's transformative trades. I think some of the same principles though will be in play. The Jazz always play hard and continue to attack. I don't imagine Tyrone Corbin will change any of those principles and that is the type of team he has. Utah does not have the most talented team in the league, but they should not lack for effort. Utah will keep coming at its opponents all game long and defense will have to withstand the barrage. Again, Utah does not have the most talented team in the league. The Jazz need more shooters to help balance the floor, but I don't think that will stop them at any point from trying to just come at you.
How the Magic will beat the Jazz: Some of the most frustrating losses of the last two years have come at the hands of the Jazz. It used to be Deron Williams tearing up the defense, so maybe things will change. But it always seems the team's defense falls apart in Salt Lake City or the team just gets frustrated. It might have something to do with the two very solid post players Utah can throw at Dwight Howard to bottle him up offensively. It is hard to say whether frustration will build this time around. A disciplined, focused effort, especially on the defensive end, will help the Magic get wins against the Jazz. These should be winnable games, but Utah will continue to be a tough out.