PREVIEW: Streaking Utah Jazz set to battle Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

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Feb 9, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) and forward Royce O’Neale (23) react during the second half against the Boston Celtics at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz had a .500 record and were in the middle of a long road trip, having just lost consecutive games to the two New York City teams, when something clicked for them against one of the best teams in the NBA.

It — or the nets, at least — also snapped. A lot.

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A month after the Jazz knocked down a franchise-record 25 3-pointers in a 131-118 victory at Milwaukee, Utah has kept up that momentum to go from looking like a team that might be lucky to earn a playoff spot to becoming a well-rounded NBA championship contender.

“They got the best record in the league and it showed,” Celtics standout Jaylen Brown said after scoring 33 points in a 122-108 loss at Utah on Tuesday. “The way they play with the freedom, the kind of the flow they have to their team, is really good right now.”

Outside shooting. Defense. Rebounding. Flow. Freedom. You name it, the Jazz have done it and then some during a stretch in which they’ve won 16 of 17 games en route to being the first team in the league to reach the 20-win mark.

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After becoming the first NBA team with five players hitting at least four 3-pointers in one game — that streak-starting outing in Cream City — the Jazz ended up making more 3s in January than any squad in league history. They also set a record with 11 straight games with at least 15 triples.

“That’s the team we have to be,” All-Star Donovan Mitchell said after scoring 32 points against the Bucks on Jan. 8. “The last two games (losses to the Knicks and Nets), last few games, don’t really represent who we are. We have to stay at that level. We can’t bring it against Milwaukee and not bring it against New York.”

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They’ll get another chance to bring it against Milwaukee on Friday night when they host the Bucks in Salt Lake City. The Jazz bring a five-game winning streak into this rubber match, while Milwaukee enters having had its own five-game winning streak snapped in a down-to-the-wire loss at Phoenix.

“It’s a group that isn’t concerned with our record, our win streak,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We want to win, but the focus is squarely on getting better.”

The Bucks will be out to put an end to the Jazz’s second-longest win streak of the season, no doubt. Milwaukee came oh-so-close to bringing a six-game spurt into Utah but lost 125-124 to the much-improved Suns on Wednesday when Giannis Antetokounmpo’s jumper went awry at the buzzer.

“To get it to Giannis, to be at the top of the key with the court spread, you attack or get a shot,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He got a pretty good look.”

Antetokounmpo finished with 47 points to lead the Bucks, who were playing without Jrue Holiday. The guard missed his second game in a row due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols for COVID-19.

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Budenholzer said he’s spoken with Holiday quite a bit in recent days.

“He’s in a good place and he’s taking care of himself,” the Bucks coach said. “But he has an eye on the team, too.”

The Jazz might also be without one of their key guards. All-Star candidate Mike Conley has missed two consecutive games with a strained right hamstring. He’s considered day-to-day.

–Field Level Media