Playoff Game Preview: #8 Bakersfield @ #2 Utah

Mateen Cleaves

Wait, the eight seeded team is playing the number 2 team?  That's not how it works!  Usually, you'd be right, but in the D-League's newfangled playoff format, the Colorado 14er's passed on the Jam.  Looking at the matchup, I can't blame them, especially after thier big victory last night.  Utah's big guns have more potential, but the Jam have a team of vet's.  If Bakersfield shows up hungry, this will be a fun game to watch.

Utah Starters:

Morris Almond can score, and he can score in bunches.  On assignment from the Jazz, he's one of the few players that actually requested to play in the D-League, as he wasn't getting any minutes with the Jazz.  Almond's got good reason to want to play in the D-League, as it gives him free rein to score whenever, and where ever, he touches the ball - he broke the D-League scoring record by hanging 53 points on the Jam last season.  Unfortunately, he's rarely going to contribute much else to the box score.

Kosta Koufos is another Jazz player, one whom I believe should play in the NBA over fellow Jazzers Kyrylo Fesenko and whatever Collins brother is currently getting minutes in the NBA.  He's big, he usually knows what he's doing in the post, and he's good for at least two blocks per game.  I've only watched one other complete game of his in the D-League, and that was against Bakersfield.  He looked great - 21 points, 11 boards and 5 assists in 28 minutes.  I can assure you Deane Martin, Bakersfield's defensive coordinator, has been masterminding a plan to slow the big man down.

JR Giddens, on assignment from the Boston Celtics, is versatile and uber-athletic, but also very raw.  His scoring options are more hit-and-miss than anything, as he's not especially adept at creating his own shot or shooting the jumper.  He is a rookie, and therefore, understandably inconsistent.  He can dunk, which, like many is his best way to score.  Some nights, Giddens dribbles off his shoe and clanks jumpers, looking overwhelmed in the pro-game.  Others - he'll dominate like his first game against Bakersfield this season - 34 points, 7 boards, 6 assists, and 5 blocks.  He also has a sweet profile picture on his D-League page, if you're into clouds.

Ronald Dupree is ball player.  He's a leader.  He's the lone veteran on this Flash team.  Dupree's jumpshot is about as effective as owner Brandt Andersen's spell check, but he brings everything else you want in an NBA prospect.  He's long, he can get to the basket, he'll lockdown the other teams best perimeter player (a huge benefit as defense is something Utah seriously lacks), and he hustles, working hard while out on the court.  He's an efficient scorer, and brings either his rebounding or assisting mindset, rarely doing both well in the same game.

Kevin Kruger is the last starter, but probably the most important to the teams success, as he's their only real point guard.  Kruger's a pure point guard, a distributor that doesn't rack up the assists, but keeps the offense running, executing it as a coach on the floor.  This shouldn't be a surprise to you, as he's the son of Lon Kruger, a well respected coach in college.  Kruger's not on that's going to look to impress on the court, but last weekend, he did, with his first 20+ points of the season.  His turnover's seem to correlate with him looking for his shot - I haven't watched him enough this season to know for sure, but I'm assuming this comes from a propensity to make poor decisions when passing in traffic near the basket.

Miscellaneous Utah Notes

There's a new Jazz/Flash blog in the blogosphere run by Spencer Ryan Hall, who has also written for FreeDarko, so you know it's going to be great... Spencer doesn't let me down, as he summed up my thoughts on Brandt Andersen's recent outburst perfectly... The Flash's bench isn't very deep, but big James Lang would seem to deserve more than the five minutes he got last game... Andre Ingram could come in and shoot, but don't count on him for much else...

Bakersfield Starters:

Mateen Cleaves can run a team.  He could run IceMan's Y-Ball team, he's run an NCAA championship team, he's even been serviceable when running NBA teams.  His numbers will rarely blow you away unless you're a stats guy and love the assist-to-turnover numbers, which comes in at a pretty impressive 3-1, equal to the odds of me ever finding employment.  He's got intangibles, a larger than average head, NBA decision-making skills, and finds the open man when the open man gets open.  I'm a closest-Cleaves fan.

Trey Johnson is one of the best players in the D-League you still don't know.  He's had two NBA call-ups (rumored for a third to Golden State.. Keep your eyes open) to the Cav's, he's had look in camp the past two seasons, he can run the point, and he shot over 40% from beyond the arc this season.  Get to know this man!  He's the most prolific scorer in the D-League not on assignment (what's up, Mr. Almond) and doesn't really do anything bad.  He's a solid, NBA bench player.

Justin Reed is a stud.  You may not know/remember this, but I do.  From what I hear, he was the runner-up in the sportsman of the year "voting" (I kid), but besides that, I like everything about him.  He's a stopper, he can play the 3/4 against the Flash, he's played in 136 NBA games, he can board and he's a hard-worker on defense.  The one thing I'm down on is his offense, as it's not often there, as much as he believes it is.  Essentially, he's a little bit younger Ronald Dupree, which should make this matchup interesting.

Derrick Byars was the 2007 SEC Player of the Year, yet he's the fourth starter we're profiling on Bakersfield - this team is better than you thought.  Byars is 6'7", long, and despite his recent slump, he can literally shoot the piss out of the ball - I know people who've witnessed this.  He can't really create his own shot, but that's not such a bad thing on this team, because both Cleaves and Johnson are more than capable of getting him the open shot.  He can shoot and he can defend - two characteristics the Flash lack.  I expect Byars to play well in this game.

Nick Lewis is mentioned last, but not least.  Well, also least.  I've never really liked the guy (don't ask why) but he's shown to be an asset for Bakersfield at times this season.  He's blue collar - he'll bring his Spiderman lunch bucket to the arena, grab some boards, and head back out to surf, then shampoo his blonde flowing mane.  He's putting up decent numbers this season on offense, but I'd assume that his +/- isn't looking good, as his defense is suspect.

Miscellaneous Bakersfield Notes

All three of their bench players bring good stuff to the court... Terrance Thomas is a D-League veteran that will go after the boards and play hard - love his hustle - when he's out on the court, you'll notice him... Terrell Everett is their only guard off the bench - his minutes have been inconsistent, along with his play, but the PG out of Oklahoma can play... David Berghoefer is a guy I've long been intrigued by in the D-League... Berghoefer is just a tall white dude, who despite injury woes this season, will still intimidate down in the block... If needed, Scott Roth could probably come off the bench, svelte as he's looking these days, leaving the coaching duties to Deane Martin, assistant extraordinaire...

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