Heat will have tough time against Jazz defense
SALT LAKE CITY — Making the impossible seem ordinary on defense is becoming a habit for Rudy Gobert. It's no secret that his defensive domination has played a big role for the Utah Jazz in building a four-game winning streak.
Gobert has finished with double-doubles in three of his last four games, culminating in a 16-point, 14-rebound effort in Utah's 120-101 victory over Houston on Tuesday night. The 7-foot-1 center has averaged 15.3 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocked shots during the Jazz winning streak.
He is living up to his moniker “The Stifle Tower” by finding ways to block shots, alter others and force opponents out of their usual rhythm on offense. The scary thing for future Jazz opponents is that Gobert doesn't feel like he's even scratched the surface yet.
“I'm just 24,” Gobert said. “I can get a lot better, but I'm feeling good for sure.”
With Gobert at the top of his game defensively, Utah has turned the basket into a fortress where offenses can't even cross the moat to get inside. The Jazz have allowed 88.6 points per game through eight home games so far. In their last three home contests, they've won by an average margin of 23.7 points.
Utah coach Quin Snyder credits Gobert with an improved focus for allowing his game to open up on both ends of the court.
“Some of the things he is doing is he is just getting from play-to-play,” Snyder said. “You don't have those moments where he is distracted about something else that's happened on the court. As a result, his focus is so consistent when that happens.”
Miami has already seen firsthand what Gobert can do this season. He had 12 points and 12 rebounds to help lead Utah to a 102-91 victory over the Heat on Nov. 12. The Heat will likely need to counter him with a big game from their own big man, Hassan Whiteside.
Whiteside stepped up to the plate big time in a 106-98 victory over Denver on Wednesday night. He finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds. It marked his third straight game that Whiteside finished with a double-double.
Whiteside credited his teammates with making his job easier against the Nuggets through their own elevated defensive efforts.
“That was the best communication we had all season, especially on defense,” Whiteside said. “We had guys in the right spot, communicating with each other.”
The most remarkable part of these performances is Whiteside is getting this kind of production even while dealing with a sore left knee. An MRI on Monday came back negative. He isn't the only key player on either team that's been ailing.
Both the Heat and the Jazz will be missing starters on Thursday night after injuries earlier this week.
Rodney Hood suffered a right hamstring strain in the third quarter against Houston and did not return. He is listed as questionable. Derrick Favors has already been sidelined six games with a left knee bone contusion.
Dion Waiters suffered a groin injury against Boston on Monday and will be out for at least two weeks. He joins Justise Winslow on the sideline. Winslow has only appeared in nine games because of a wrist injury.