Hill heating up as Jazz host Hawks

SALT LAKE CITY — In his first game back from a sprained thumb, George Hill showed why he is becoming Utah's most indispensable player.

The Jazz hope for more of the same from Hill on Friday when they host the Atlanta Hawks at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

Hill's fingerprints could be seen everywhere in a 108-83 victory over the Denver Nuggets. He led the team in scoring for the fifth time this season — finishing with 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting.

Hill's presence also had a calming effect on his teammates. When he was on the floor, offensive sets ran to perfection on a majority of possessions and, on the other end, the Jazz (8-8) defended at a high level.

It's still early, but Utah's decision to trade for Hill appears to be the most shrewd offseason move by any NBA team.

“He makes the game easier for everybody, so it's great to have him back out on the court,” Gordon Hayward said after Wednesday's victory over the Nuggets. “You can see the impact he had on the game. He's a tremendous basketball player on both ends of the floor.”

Hill is averaging a career-best 20.6 points and dishing out 4.8 assists. He has totaled just 10 turnovers over eight games. Even while he was sidelined for eight games, the veteran guard did all he could to make sure he hit the ground running once he came back.

Once back, he helped Utah snap a four-game losing streak and put together its best offensive output since a 109-84 victory over Philadelphia on Nov. 7.

“Any time you miss a lot of games — especially when your team is losing — you want to get back out there and be a part of it,” Hill said. “It's always fun to be out there with these guys and fighting night in and night out.”

Atlanta (10-5) should offer a better measuring stick to see if Utah has put its struggles in the rearview mirror. The Hawks rolled to a 96-85 victory over Indiana on Wednesday behind double-doubles from both Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap.

Howard totaled 23 points and 20 rebounds while Millsap finished with 18 points and 11 boards. The duo helped Atlanta finish with a 56-37 advantage on the glass. Seventeen of those were offensive boards which the Hawks turned into 19 second-chance points.

“I thought we came out here tonight with a certain level of focus, and we were able to sustain it throughout the game,” Millsap said following Wednesday night's win.

Atlanta is an efficient team on offense and should present a nice test for Utah's defense. The Hawks shoot 46.9 percent from the field and average 24.6 assists per game. In both offensive categories, they rank among the top 5 NBA teams.

Utah and Atlanta split the season series a year ago, with each team winning on the road. The Hawks prevailed 91-84 in Salt Lake City on Mar. 8 after rallying from a double-digit deficit in the second quarter. Atlanta has won 12 of the last 14 games between the two teams.