NBA Playoffs Preview: Warriors vs. Jazz

The Warriors are overwhelming favorites, but what can the Jazz do to pull off an unlikely upset?

The Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz have shown us that there are two entirely different ways to reaching one goal.

Through one round, the Warriors have played and won four postseason matchups against the Portland Trail Blazers. In those four contests, they accounted for 119.5 points and 12.5 threes per game while averaging a pace of 102 possessions per 48 minutes.

As for the Jazz, they have, in seven games against the Los Angeles Clippers, put up just 98.9 points, consisting of 9.7 three-point makes on a pace of 88.9 possessions per game.

But those are the distinct paths these teams have traveled to get to where they are. Now they'll face off against one another as their styles clash and their paths converge in the second round.

Golden State Warriors (1)

Record: 67-15
nERD: 82.7
Championship Odds: 42.0%

Utah Jazz (5)

Record: 51-31
nERD: 63.3
Championship Odds: 4.2%

Regular Season Series - Warriors 2, Jazz 1

To say the least, the outcomes of the teams' three regular season meetings were a bit of a mixed bag. Although Golden State's edge is just a single game, they outscored Utah 309-278 for an average margin of victory of 10.3 points.

On the other hand, the Jazz won the final game on April 10th. They did so against a Klay Thompson-less squad, but Utah was even more short-handed since they were without three key players in Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors.

If we can pull anything of significance from the third installment of the regular season series, it's that the Jazz dominated the offensive boards despite Favors' absence. Behind Rudy Gobert's 6 offensive rebounds, the Jazz secured a total of 10 offensive boards with a rebound percentage of 29.2% on the offensive end.

In utilizing their size advantage, Utah scored 105 points on an offensive rating of 113.7 points per 100 possessions. In turn, they held Golden State to an offensive rating of 107.2 points per 100 possessions.

Everything's been quite the opposite in the Warriors' two December victories.

The first game took place in Salt Lake City on December 8th, where Golden State got the 106-99 win behind 26 points from Stephen Curry and 21 from Kevin Durant. A win's a win, but it just so happens that this single-digit victory came over a Jazz team that started Dante Exum, Shelvin Mack, Boris Diaw, Joe Johnson and Gobert.

Of the five, only Gobert had more than 33 starts in the regular season. The other four -- primarily second-team reserves -- combined for 82 total starts.

Without the services of Hayward, Favors, Hood and starting point guard George Hill, the Jazz shot just 41.6% from the field and 26.3% from three. Their effective field goal percentage of 47.2% was nearly 10% lower than Golden State's 56.3%. Again, Gobert and the Jazz were better on the offensive boards, but the Warriors won the overall rebounding battle 47-46.

In the only game Golden State played at home, the result was very different from the other two. In a December 20th meeting, the Warriors outscored the Jazz 55-33 in the first half and coasted to a 104-74 win behind Curry's 25-point effort. Both teams had nine threes and the Jazz lost the rebound battle by six. Again, it must be noted that Favors sat out due to injury.

Finally, we're set to watch the two teams clash at full strength! But will things stay close? And if they do, then how?

How the Warriors Can Win

It's almost easier to wrap your head around one or two things the Warriors could do to lose rather than all the things they could do to win. After all, when you win 71 games through your first 86, shouldn't you just keep doing what you're doing?

In a nutshell, that's what Golden State has to do -- and it all starts and ends with their fast pace of play.

In the regular season, the Warriors' 99.8 possessions per game ranked fourth among all NBA teams. In their two wins against the Jazz, they played at a pace of 96.2 and 97.5 possessions per 48 minutes. At 92.4 possessions per 48, their lone loss favored the pace of the Jazz.

In line with their run-and-gun pace, the Warriors will look to use the three-point line to their advantage. They will do their best to space the floor and neutralize the effect of Gobert's rim presence and Utah's defensive blitz.

Warriors Player to Watch - Stephen Curry

According to's John Schuhmann, the Jazz had an offensive rating of 67.1 in a total of 33.5 minutes when the Warriors deployed Curry, Thompson, Durant and Draymond Green on the floor.

This could be expected, but it is impressive all the same. It may not be an earth-shattering take, but Curry has proven to be the Warriors' offensive key against the Jazz, and the numbers say as much.

In the two teams' regular season matchups, Golden State's net rating went from 24.1 with Curry on the court to -10.7 without him. That's the biggest impact of any Warrior's absence, with the next-closest being Thompson at -6.7.

As we dig deeper into the particulars, we see this could also be a product of pace. When Curry was running the offensive charge against the Jazz, the team's pace was at 98.87 possessions, as opposed to just 94.63 without his presence.

As long as Curry avoids injury and stays out of foul trouble, the Warriors should be golden (no pun intended).

How the Jazz Can Win

Again, via Schuhmann, Utah's win in the April 10th matchup was the slowest game (92.48) the Warriors played in the regular season. But enough about pace -- rebounding is the area where Golden State can be best exploited.

In the Warriors' 15 regular-season losses, they rebounded just 46.5% of all available boards. In contrast, they secured 51.5% of rebounds in their wins. On the other side of it, Utah's rebounding rate stood at 53.3% in 51 wins, compared to their mark of 49.4% in their 31 losses.

It might seem like we're beating a dead horse here, but the importance of rebounding in this series cannot be emphasized enough. It's very likely the only way the Jazz can pull the 5-over-1 upset against the title favorites.

Jazz Player to Watch - Rudy Gobert

Speaking of rebounding, Gobert is Utah's anchor down low. And as we alluded to previously, he's had some success against the undersized Warriors, averaging 17.3 rebounds per game -- his highest against any opponent this season.

Sure, his 13.6% offensive rebound rate could play a factor, but Gobert's defense will be more crucial to Utah's success against the Warriors' elite offense. By defense, though, we're talking improvement.

"Improvement? He's a Defensive Player of the Year candidate." Yes. While that's true, the Warriors shot 15 of 25 when Gobert played rim protector. On the year, Gobert's opponents shot an average of 43.9% on such shots.

Series Prediction

A Jazz upset is within the realm of possibilities. Their slow style of play and grind-it-out defense should help to create opportunities for variance from game-to-game, which plays into their hands.

After all is said and done, though, I can't help but agree with our algorithms. What's most likely to happen is that the Jazz -- after being dominated in Games 1 and 2 -- steal one game in Salt Lake only to be closed out at Oracle in Game 5. The Warriors are just too talented on the offensive end.

According to our algorithms: Warriors are 77.75% favorites.

My final prediction: Warriors in 5.