Considering they’re coming off of a split with the Los Angeles Clippers, have an exciting matchup Wednesday against the Los Angeles Lakers and recently beat the Charlotte Hornets by 17, the Utah Jazz will need to be wary of not allowing Monday night’s contest against Gordon Hayward & Co. in Salt Lake City to become a trap game.
The way Utah has been dialed in since a mediocre 4-4 start — winning 20 of its next 22 games — that might not be an issue.
“They are the best team in the NBA right now record-wise,” said Clippers coach Ty Lue after Friday’s slim win. “We knew that they won 20 of 21 coming into (Friday night). We got our guys back, and we wanted to win this game.”
The Jazz still claim ownership of the NBA’s best record at 24-6 heading into their matchup vs. the Hornets. Utah has had winning streaks of 11 and nine games in the past month and a half to vault to the top of the standings.
Two nights after handily beating the Clippers without Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Jazz rallied to challenge the L.A. squad with Leonard and George at Staples Center before losing for only the second time in 22 games, 116-112.
Utah hasn’t lost consecutive games since dropping a back-to-back set to the Nets and Knicks in New York on Jan. 5 and 6. That marked the only time all season they’ve lost more than one game in a row.
“There’s so many different things that we’ve seen throughout this stretch,” said Donovan Mitchell, who scored 12 points in the last 1:23 Friday to turn a 13-point deficit into just two in the closing moments. “We’re not here to be satisfied with what happens today, tomorrow. We’re getting ready for the long haul — second half of the season and the playoffs. We’ve got to continue to be this team and not just be this team in the first half of the season.”
The Hornets won for the fourth time in six games Saturday, eking past the Warriors at home 102-100 after Draymond Green was ejected. Terry Rozier hit both technical free throws and then nailed the game-winning bucket.
Rozier finished with 36 points, giving him four straight games with at least 30 points.
“He’s been fantastic. His will throughout games and fourth quarters just to keep us alive and to actually throw in daggers to help us win games is tremendous on his part,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “But he’s been fantastic. He gives us a tremendous amount of confidence and (Saturday), he just willed us to another victory.”
Rookie LaMelo Ball scored a career-high 34 against Utah in the teams’ first encounter, while former Jazz forward Hayward totaled 25 points and 10 rebounds in that Feb. 5 outing. But the Jazz cruised to a 138-121 win on the heels of big games from Bojan Bogdanovic (31 points, seven 3-pointers) and Mitchell (30 points) and a franchise-record 26 3-pointers.
Hayward can expect another chorus of boos from the limited Jazz crowd, many of which still harbor resentment for the way he left Utah on July 4, 2017 to join the Boston Celtics.
Charlotte kicks off a six-game Western Conference road trip Monday in Utah, with ensuing stops in Phoenix, Golden State, Sacramento, Portland and Minnesota prior to the All-Star break.
–Field Level Media