NBA

Warriors look to win another potential Conference Finals preview with Jazz

By Sports Desk December 31, 2021

The Golden State Warriors won a potential Western Conference Finals preview on Christmas Day and will look to mark the New Year by prevailing in another on the road at the Utah Jazz.

Golden State are tied for the best record in the NBA at 27-7 and the Warriors beat the team level with them, the Phoenix Suns, in Arizona on their previous away trip.

Since then, the Warriors have paid the price for a slow start in a narrow home defeat to the Denver Nuggets and seen a return clash in Colorado postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak within their opponents' camp.

That at least gave the Warriors the chance for extra rest ahead of a meeting with the red-hot Jazz, who are third in the conference with a 25-9 record and riding a five-game winning streak.

They maintained their winning run without star point guard Donovan Mitchell, who has missed the previous two games with a strained back, Rudy Gobert leading Utah to a 120-105 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers last time out.

Utah will hope Mitchell returns to set up a compelling matchup with the NBA's three-point king Stephen Curry, who became the first man to reach 3,000 career three-pointers in that defeat to the Nuggets.

Curry will predictably shoulder the scoring burden for the Warriors as the long-awaited return of his 'Splash Brother' Klay Thompson from a two-season-long absence grows closer.

With Draymond Green and Jordan Poole both in the NBA's coronavirus protocol, it may have to be a one-man show in Salt Lake City if the Warriors are to prevail, Golden State having scored under 90 points for the first time this season in the loss to Denver.

 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors – Andrew Wiggins

Minus Curry's chief facilitator in Green and emerging young guard Poole, the primary support for the Warriors' main man must come from Wiggins.

The former number one overall pick has finally found a home with the Warriors and leads the team with an effective field goal percentage of 56.6.

Utah Jazz – Rudy Gobert

The man known as the Stifle Tower is enjoying a magnificent season.

France international Gobert leads the league in rebounds per game (14.9) and field goal percentage (71.6), while he is second for blocks per game (2.3). However, given Curry's tendency for feasting on centers, the Jazz will surely try to avoid getting him isolated on the Golden State star.

KEY BATTLE – Can Mitchell master Chef Curry?

Mitchell has been sensational when on the court this season. He is averaging 25.4 points per game while his plus-minus per game of 7.6 is the eighth-best in the NBA.

However, both those numbers are inferior to Curry, who is second in the league with 27.7 points and leads the NBA with an average plus-minus of 11.7.

Few players can claim to have come anywhere close to matching Curry's overall influence this campaign. Mitchell's ability to do so on New Year's Day could have a huge bearing on who eventually claims the one seed in the West.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The Warriors have won their past two games against the Jazz, though both of those triumphs came at home. Golden State's most recent win in the Beehive state came back in October 2018. 

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