|Al Jefferson and the Jazz face a tougher Spurs defense this postseason. (Getty Images)|
San Antonio Spurs: Offense from all over. The Spurs have the best offens in the NBA and that surprises a lot of people used to them being a defensive force. They spread the floor with shooters like Gary Neal, Danny Green and Stephen Jackson, and use Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to initiate the offense and force the defense to collapse, opening the kickout. They run the smoothest offense in the NBA, smooth like.. well, Jazz.
Utah Jazz: Inside offense. The Jazz had the seventh best offense in efficiency this year, and had the second most field goals made at the rim. Their combination of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Derrick Favors has them attacking inside all the time. The Spurs' interior defense is inconsistent and undersized, so this will be a big matchup to watch.
San Antonio Spurs: It's tough to find one. They've raised their defense from the late-teens to eleventh best in the league. Their biggest weakness comes against size. Players with sheer bulk and height do damage to them as they saw in last year's playoffs and against Andrew Bynum in one particular matchup this year. But even then, the Spurs rebound well and don't allow a gouging at the rim.
Utah Jazz: Defensively, Utah's just not great. They get lost on rotations, can give up easy points when things go badly, and struggle closing out. Most concerning, they struggle with the pick and roll. They rank 29th in pick and roll defense according to Synergy Sports.
The best offense in the league against the worst defense in the playoffs. This will not go well.
San Antonio Spurs: Kawhi Leonard. The Jazz aren't stocked with wings but Gordon Hayward can make plays. Leonard is the Spurs' secret perimeter weapon. He's one of those guys who just makes a wide array of plays on a nightly basis. Throw in his ability to knock down the corner three, a huge part of fitting into the Spurs' offense, and this could be Leonard's coming out party.
Utah Jazz: Gordon Hayward. That's right. Both the young wings are huge in this series. Over the past 15 games, Hayward is averaging 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists and shooting 50 percent from the field. He's an emotional leader for the Jazz. He's going to have to put himself on the national stage for the first time since the Final Four to help the Jazz make this a series.
San Antonio Spurs: Point guard. Tony Parker is an MVP candidate this year. His ability to dictate the matchup against Devin Harris is pivotal for the Spurs. Harris certainly has experience against San Antonio from his time in Dallas. But Parker's ability to not only get past Harris, but to lose him off screens and cuts is going to be a nightmare for a Jazz team that struggles with rotations.
Utah Jazz: Paul Millsap. With Tim Duncan presumably guarding Al Jefferson, who guards Millsap? Matt Bonner has been terrific in the post this season, but can he guard Millsap in space or off the dribble? DeJuan Blair can likely pester him off cuts, but can get backed down and spun around in the post. Tiago Splitter can't defend him in range. Even Duncan, in lineups with Splitter guarding the other Utah big, would struggle with Millsap's versatility. This is what the series comes down to for Utah. Paul Millsap has to be amazing.
Will Win If...
San Antonio Spurs will win if... They don't get knocked back inside. The Spurs look nearly invincible against this team in particular, so this could afford them a great chance to not only get over the ghosts of last year but get some rest before the second round begins. They just need to play tough enough inside not to get worked and push the pace.
Utah Jazz will win if... Devin Harris has the series of his life. The Jazz need the Harris the Nets thought they were trading for from Dallas. They need Harris to dictate the flow of the game, control turnovers, force turnovers, run the pick and roll, and hit threes. He has to completely stun the world. If he were to do that, the other elements could fall into place for Utah.
Series prediction: Spurs in 5.