Tuesday marks the tip-off of the 2008-2009 NBA regular season. For Salt Lake City patrons, Wednesday night will be the first opportunity to watch the Utah Jazz, who open the season against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
The Jazz are currently on a five-game win streak in their season openers, with their last loss coming at the hands of the New Orleans Hornets on Oct 30. of 2002. The fact that Karl Malone was the team’s leading scorer with 20 points shows just how long ago that game was played. Utah will also have to compete without point guard Deron Williams, who was sidelined with a grade-two ankle sprain on Oct 18. during a preseason game against the Chicago Bulls.
After a trip to the Western Conference semi-finals last season, Utah will not be able to fly under the radar as they did the past two seasons, and even with Williams injured for the opener, this season looks to be the Jazz’s best shot at winning an NBA championship since NBA Finals losses in both 1997 and 1998.
Some numbers stick out in favor of the Jazz returning to the success of the late-90’s. As a team, in 1997-1998, they averaged 101.0 points per game, to their opponent's 94.4. In the 2007-2008 season, the Jazz scored 101.5 points per game, but gave up 98.6 points. On paper, the two teams are extremely comparable, with a dominant power forward (Boozer/Malone), a great point guard (Williams/Stockton), and a dependable long-range shooter (Korver/Hornacek).
Last year, Boozer did not average as many points as Karl Malone did in ‘98, but he did have more rebounds. Williams also averaged more points and assists than John Stockton did in that same year. Add Andre Kirilenko, who seems to be returning to his All-Star form, and Mehmet Okur (17.6 ppg), in place of Bryon Russell and Greg Ostertag, and this year’s Jazz team actually has more firepower than the back-to-back Finals teams.
It will be interesting to see how the Jazz continue to build on two solid seasons. Statistics show that the team's offense is as good as or better than the Utah teams that made it to the NBA Finals. If the defense can hold opponents close to 95 points a game, a deep run similar to the Jazz teams of 1997 and 1998 is certainly possible this year.
Michael Giovacchini is the Jazz writer for Studyofsports.com