The last time the Jazz faced up against the Cleveland Cavaliers on January 2nd, they were seemingly at a crossroads. Still sitting under .500 at 18-20 and coming off an understandable, yet tough loss at the Toronto Raptors, most prognosticators pegged that game as the either the start of the Jazz piling up some wins with a lighter schedule or spiraling further down into a lost season.
So what did the Jazz do? They won the last matchup with the Cavaliers 117-91 and since then have been rolling to win 7 of their last 8 and climb back into the Western Conference playoff race. Granted the schedule has lightened up a little bit and they had a four game homestand mixed into those last 8 games. But the wins have been impressive considering starting point guard Ricky Rubio has missed the last five games and the depth at the point guard position has been severely hampered with Dante Exum and Raul Neto out also.
Enter the point guard version of Donovan Mitchell.
Mitchell has not only been good but has been a revelation at point guard averaging 31.2 PPG and 6 assists. Rudy Gobert has been consistently good all season but he has also turned it up a notch, earning back to back 20 rebound games and altering everything in the painted universe.
The Cavaliers on the other hand have been sinking towards the lottery this season. Having only won one game in the last 14 there is no hope for the post season that they have had so much success in over the last four seasons. Their only all star in Kevin Love being sidelined with injury makes it hard to win most games. Despite that obvious fact though, this team has some good looking young players and always seems to show a lot of fight for most of the game.
Two former Jazzmen, Alec Burks and Rodney Hood are getting the chance to contribute and have been playing well this season both averaging double figures in points and providing much needed veteran leadership for the team. Rookie point guard Collin Sexton has been a bright spot, averaging nearly 15 points per contest and showing that he has the athleticism to play with anybody.
No doubt the intrigue and the focus of this game for a lot of Jazz fans will be on the return of Alec Burks and Rodney Hood but the Jazz have to be careful not to lose focus in a game like this. It is inexcusable at this point to drop a game like this for the Jazz but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. As Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell put it after the last game against the Los Angeles Clippers, “Nothing’s different. We’re just a bit more focused”. As long as they can maintain that attitude they should have a successful outing Friday night and beyond.
When: 7:00 MT • Friday, January 18th, 2019
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena · Salt Lake City, UT
TV: AT&T SportsNet / NBA League Pass
Radio: 1280 AM/97.5 FM
Utah Jazz (25-21)
Ricky Rubio - Hamstring - OUT
Dante Exum - Ankle - OUT
Thabo Sefolosha - Hamstring - OUT
Tony Bradley - Knee - OUT
Raul Neto - Groin - OUT
Cleveland Cavaliers (9-36)
Kevin Love - Toe - OUT
Larry Nance - Sprained MCL - OUT
Tristan Thompson - Foot Soreness - OUT
What to watch for
Jazzmen to Jazz Killers?
It will be interesting to see how former Jazzmen Alec Burks and Rodney Hood play and are received by Jazz fans. I think the general feeling for most Jazz fans is that there is no bad blood. Although it didn’t work out for either player on the Jazz they both seem like ultimate professionals and they gave us some great memories over the years……… so without further ado, here is the (un)official SLC Dunk Alec Burks and Rodney Hood tribute videos, enjoy.