Rocky Mountain Revue: Almond fares well in marquee matchup
Sonics star scores 29, but Jazz rookie nets 18 in victory
Morris Almond may be a newcomer to the Utah Jazz, but already he knows what the team has been lacking.
"Yeah, I got a taste of it tonight. We're in the Western Conference. Everybody keeps telling me that's where the killer's at, at the two spot, so better get used to it," he said after a somewhat unexpected night of chasing around No. 2 overall draft pick Kevin Durant, the University of Texas product now playing for the Seattle Sonics.
Almond, drafted at No. 25 by the Jazz to help their outside shooting, just happens to play that same two-guard spot that's been a sore spot for Utah defenders for a long time, what with Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen and a whole bunch of big-time scorers whose eyes light up when they see Jazz defenders.
"He finished with 29," Almond said of Durant, who won't play any more Rocky Mountain Revue games as he is heading to train for Team USA for FIBA zone play, "so you can't say you slowed him down too much. He's a player that's going to keep coming all night, keep shooting, that's what his team needs."
But, said Almond, "We ended up winning, so I'll take that."
Utah rebounded from Monday's turnover-filled four-point loss to San Antonio to down the Sonics 102-88.
Almond's defensive tactic in his first taste of Western Conference two-guard defense was to, "Stay between him and the basket. I knew he was going to shoot it pretty much every time he touched it. Just get a hand in his face and make it tough on him."
Durant was impressed. "He's a great player," he said of Almond. "I really respect his game. I think he's going to do really good in the NBA next year.
"It was tough for me guarding him because he moves so well coming off screens."
Almond had what he said was his best game of the four, scoring 18 and impressing Scott Layden, the assistant who ran the club for this game.
"Defensively, I thought he did a good job in learning," said Layden, noting that once Almond let Jeff Green go baseline, forcing teammate Wen Mukubu into fouling. "Morris let him go baseline, and we addressed it with him, and he wouldn't let anybody go baseline after that, so it tells you that he's a good listener and wants to do a good job."
Fourteen of Durant's points came in the fourth quarter when he tried to shoot the Sonics back from a 69-61 Jazz advantage.
Durant took 21 shots to make seven, and Green made six of 14 shots toward his 25. Together they had 26 points at the free-throw line.
"It's always great to come out with a win, especially against talent like Jeff Green and Kevin Durant," said Jazz free agent Mukubu, a 6-foot-6 guard born in Zaire, Africa, who played at Alabama-Birmingham after transferring from Arkansas.
Mukubu took turns with Almond against Durant and Green. "They're real good, real skilled players. They cause a lot of mismatches on the floor just because they're so long and athletic and their ability to shoot the ball. Coach told us to go out and be aggressive on them. It was good team defense overall," Mukubu said.
"Coach told me to keep being aggressive on him and make him put the ball on the floor. From that point, it was just the teamwork. I had great help. I just want him to put the ball on the floor in an uncomfortable position and take a tough shot."
The Jazz played the game without second-year men Ronnie Brewer (hamstring and ankle problems) and Rafael Araujo (groin strain/adductor tendinitis).The Revue takes today off, and play resumes Wednesday with three games, the Jazz meeting Atlanta at 7 p.m.
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