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Like every NBA, the Jazz analyze the game's analytics, poring over the mass of statistical data, trying to mine it for answers. But there's one number they and just about everybody else has had a hard time trying to crack: the No. 2 stitched onto Kawhi Leonard's jersey.
"It's hard to look at Kawhi analytically and figure out how to attack him," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of the San Antonio Spurs forward. "He's that good defensively. That's why he's Defensive Player of the Year."
Leonard makes life hell for opposing offenses, and he's given Jazz forward Gordon Hayward all sorts of trouble this year. In three meetings with the Spurs leading up to Tuesday night, Hayward had shot just 32 percent (11 of 34) from the field, including just 2-of-7 shooting from deep. He'd turned the ball over six times. In his 87 minutes, the Jazz had been outscored by 88 points.
Leonard will be a leading candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year again this season, as he's helped the Spurs to their best record in franchise history. And depending how the final week breaks, there's a chance the Jazz could find themselves matched up with Leonard and the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. That would mean a lot of time for Hayward on Kawhi Island.
"We're going to have to be crisp with our cuts," Hayward said at shootaround Tuesday of how to attack Leonard and the Spurs. "Just hard cuts, being strong physically and using our counters, too. They like to deny a lot of things. Then we have to take shots with confidence."
But, especially in a playoff series, the Jazz would need their leading scorer to find a way to produce, despite having Leonard's long arms trying to keep him from the hoop.
"I think you just have to be efficient, and Gordon can't take it all upon himself," Snyder said of their matchup Tuesday. "He's got to keep playing the way he's playing."
Want a job with the San Antonio Spurs?
Here's Gregg Popovich's requirements for applicants: "Anybody I bring on a staff has to enjoy wine at dinner. After that, if they know a little about basketball, that helps. Sense of humor after that. After that, if they've gotten over themselves and realize that we're all just halfway intelligent and together we can be a little bit more intelligent."
Asked whether Snyder, once the head coach of the Spurs' D-League affiliate, fit the billing while in Texas, Popovich said yes.
"He's right in there, except he's smarter than the rest of us," the Spurs coach said. "That boy is like a bubble machine. He's got stuff, it's like a cartoon. He's got bubbles coming off the top of his head all the time, with ideas about stuff. Some of it I understood and some of it I didn't. But he's a great guy, a great friend and guy to be around. He isn't full of himself and enjoys people. He was wonderful when he was with us."
Alec Burks, sources told The Tribune, is expected to return this week but the shooting guard did not suit up for Tuesday's game. The Jazz have not publicly said when Burks could make his return. Meanwhile, Snyder shot down a separate report Tuesday suggesting that Burks, out since Dec. 26 with a fractured ankle, could be shut down for the rest of the season.
"That's just erroneous," the coach said.