SALT LAKE CITY — When the Utah Jazz meet the 12-23 Cleveland Cavaliers Friday night at EnergySolutions Arena, they’ll be playing a team that is barely ahead of them record-wise.
That should give the 12-25 Jazz confidence coming off a Tuesday win over the team with the NBA’s second-best record at the time, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
However, the Cavs will be breaking in a new player in two-time All-Star Luol Deng, who was acquired Tuesday in a trade with the Chicago Bulls.
Utah's coaches and players praised Deng and what he’ll bring to the Cavaliers, but aren’t sure how his addition will affect the game Friday night.
“It’s going to be interesting when you add a guy like Deng with the talent that they have,’’ said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. “It could go either way the first game with him, so we’ll have to make sure we come out ready to compete against these guys especially at the beginning of the game because they’re going to be jacked up a little bit.’’
Jazz forward Marvin Williams, who knows what it’s like to be traded from a team he's been with for a long time, expects Deng to make a difference for the Cavs.
“He’s very good and brings a lot of force to that team, a lot of energy on the defensive end,’’ he said. “He’s a great player and has been an All-Star a couple of years in this league, so he’ll definitely be a great addition for those guys. Obviously when you get a new player, it takes some time to gel, but he’s been around for a long time and he knows how to play. They’ll be a pretty good team, for sure.’’
Deng, whose contract is up at the end of this season, initially expressed surprise about the trade since he’d been with the Bulls for nearly 10 years after being drafted in 2004.
"I've been very lucky," he told The Associated Press. "Not a lot of guys can say they've been with one organization for too long. I was definitely surprised. You hear stuff, you hear rumors, but some of it's true and some of it's not. When it happened, I couldn't believe it.’’
The Bulls were obviously looking to the future, acquiring three draft picks and the cap space for the contract of Andrew Bynum, who they immediately waived. The Bulls are 15-18 and star point guard Derrick Rose is out for the season with an injury.
Deng was averaging 19.0 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 23 games for Chicago this year, although he missed nine games with an injured Achilles.
He is expected to move into the Cavs’ starting lineup and join Kyree Irving (22.0 ppg, 6.1 apg), Tristan Thompson (11.9 ppg), C.J. Miles (10.1 ppg) and Anderson Varejao (8.4 ppg). Dion Waiters is the top player off the bench, and is the team’s second-leading scorer at 15.1 points per game.
The Cavs come into the game having lost eight of their last nine games. They also have the NBA’s worst road record at 2-15 and the Utah game is the first of a five-game Western road trip that will include stops in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Portland and Denver.
“We made a nice trade bringing in Luol Deng and he’s going to bring a lot to the team,’’ said Cavs coach Mike Brown. “It’s a great time to get away and bond and figure out who we’re going to be going forward. And what better time to start than on a five-game Western road trip.’’
For the Jazz, the challenge will be putting consecutive good games together after Tuesday’s big win over the Thunder.
“We understand that we have to come out aggressive at the beginning of the game,’’ said Corbin. “We can’t wait to get going. This is a good opponent and they have some changes on their roster. Their record may not be one of the best in the league, but they’re playing hard and they’re going to be excited, so we have to make sure we match their level of intensity.’’