Deron, Dee and all that (Utah) Jazz

By Mike Rodriguez

The Utah Jazz will be traveling to Chicago this Saturday to take on the Chicago Bulls in what is supposed to be a challenging road game. But for two former Illini players, the United Center has always felt like a home away from home.

Jazz guards Deron Williams and Dee Brown will need no introduction on Saturday, as they will be greeted with cheers from Illini faithful who remember their contribution to Illinois’ basketball program and the amazing 2004-2005 team that went 37-2 and advanced to the National Championship game against North Carolina.

Williams is having a breakout year in his sophomore season in the NBA, averaging just under 17 points a game. With that he’s dishing out 8.7 assists a game, good enough for fifth overall in the NBA as of Wednesday.

However, Williams might be a little annoyed by now after seeing Wizard guard Gilbert Arenas drain a game-winning 3-pointer just as time expired in overtime right in his face on Monday. The highlight has been running every 20 minutes on ESPN ever since.

Why 6-foot-9 forward Andre Kirilenko wasn’t guarding Arenas at that point in the game is beyond me; let’s hope Jerry Sloan brings that lackadaisical attitude with him to Chicago.

Despite the recent heartbreaking OT loss, the 3rd overall pick in the 2005 draft is starting to prove his worth as a starting point guard who can handle playing major minutes without getting fatigued. Williams’ offseason workout plan proved to be a major reason for his improvement this season.

Brown, once regarded as the face of Illini athletics, has not quite found his groove with the Jazz, appearing in just 25 of the 38 games prior to Utah’s Wednesday night matchup against Detroit.

Brown is averaging just 8.3 minutes per game and 1.4 points, far less than what he achieved at Illinois. For him to succeed in the NBA he has to improve his perimeter shooting abilities.

Brown is shooting 11-for-49 from the field this season – a dismal 22 percent. This is far below his career average at Illinois in which Brown shot 43 percent from the field.

The Jazz (22-17), who are midway through their five-game trip through the East, will be the first team to face the Detroit Pistons with newly acquired antique frontman Chris Webber.

The Bulls (22-17) have dropped five out of their last eight games but are coming off an impressive victory against San Antonio on Monday.

With Ben Wallace listed as day-to-day with a sore lower back, the Bulls have had to rely on veteran P.J. Brown and rookie Tyrus Thomas to fill in for the rebounding and defensive areas. Thomas is a flat-out freak of nature that appears to blast off the floor in order to swat the ball.

In the San Antonio game, Thomas was called for back-to-back goaltending calls in which the referees gave Tim Duncan the benefit of the doubt that nobody could physically jump that high to block him. In both cases though, Thomas made contact with the ball before it was on the way down.

As the Bulls face off against the Jazz Saturday, all eyes might initially be on Deron and Dee, but look for the Bulls to get out to an early lead and play physical against a Jazz team that features big men Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer.

Although I fully support the Illini and the former Illini in the NBA, I plan to be one of the sellout 21,711 fans in attendance hoping the Bulls earn a victory against one of the better teams in the Western Conference.

Extra Innings

This Sunday’s NFC Championship game between New Orleans and Chicago is giving many Bears fans nightmares. However, I’d just like to remind you that even though the Saints are a good team this year, history is on the Bears’ side. Remember people, we’re playing a team that used to be referred to as the “‘Aints” and have only won one postseason game before beating the Eagles last Saturday.

Mike Rodriguez is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]