Coming into a showdown in Salt Lake City against one of the best teams in the NBA, the Utah Jazz finally resemble the team that dominated the league for a couple of months.
Good timing, too, considering their nationally televised Wednesday night game will be against a Brooklyn Nets team that keeps winning despite missing two of its superstars.
The Nets are coming into Utah on the second night of a back-to-back set, having impressively beaten the host Portland Trail Blazers 116-112 on Tuesday.
Already without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — both of whom will sit out Wednesday, too — the Nets nearly played without James Harden on Tuesday night. He was close to being sidelined due to a sore neck.
“No excuses. I try to fight,” Harden said. “My team needed me, and hopefully that was good enough.”
Harden ended up leading the Nets to their 16th win in 18 games despite not having their ideal roster. The MVP candidate finished with 25 points and a career-high-tying 17 assists to power Brooklyn past Damian Lillard’s squad.
Harden likes the chemistry of the Brooklyn players who are banding together without Durant and Irving.
“It’s there. It’s right were we need it to be,” Harden said. “Obviously missing K and Ky, everybody else had a sense of what their roles are and are just doing it to the best of their abilities every single night. I’m really proud of the guys.”
Brooklyn clamped down on Portland in the fourth quarter, holding the Blazers to 21 points and not allowing Lillard to score.
“To be a special team, you have to have a sense of urgency,” Harden said. “And the way we play and our effort and intensity on the defensive end has to be there no question every single night.”
The Nets will need that against Utah, which is coming off of a 120-95 road win over the Chicago Bulls on Monday. That was the second victory in a row for the Jazz, who had just won at Toronto. They hadn’t posted consecutive victory since beating the Charlotte Hornets and Los Angeles Lakers in late February.
Even with the latest wins, Utah has stumbled to a 7-6 mark after winning 20 of 21 games. The Jazz still have the best record in the NBA at 31-11, but they haven’t played to their potential consistently for a month.
This will be Utah’s first game at home after a 3-2 road trip. The Jazz, who hope to avenge a 130-96 loss at Brooklyn on Jan. 5, have gone 27-7 since that 0-2 swing in New York.
“We’ve got to get home from this long road trip, get used to the altitude again and get ready for another great defensive game,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said. “We know that Brooklyn, no matter who sits, who doesn’t sit, we know that they’re always going to have talent on the floor. It’s going to be a great challenge for us.”
Utah continues to get big performances from Donovan Mitchell, and Joe Ingles has heated up from outside of late, but Gobert has been Mr. Consistent for the Jazz all season. He is coming off an exceptionally well-rounded game in Chicago, where he ended up with 21 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high nine blocked shots.
“He’s playing the right way,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “When he does the things that, really, only he can do as far as running and being willing to come over and get off his man’s body and contest shots, he’s gonna block shots.”
Gobert had been listed as questionable for the Monday contest due to a bruised left hip.
Ingles scored 17 points against the Bulls, hitting five of his six 3-point attempts. He is 18-for-22 (81.8 percent) from long distance over the past three games.
–Field Level Media