Jazz playing for playoff position against struggling Lakers
SALT LAKE CITY — Strong guard play is giving the Utah Jazz a much needed boost as the jockey for playoff seeding in the Western Conference.
When the Jazz host the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, it’s a safe bet that Utah will get a big game from some combination of Donovan Mitchell, Ricky Rubio and Dante Exum because it’s been happening like clockwork as of late.
Mitchell has produced a Jazz rookie record nine straight 20-point games, the latest being a 21-point effort that helped fuel a 121-97 rout of Minnesota on Sunday. The first-year Jazz guard has 43 20-point games to his credit so far this season and has had a much broader impact on Utah’s offense beyond simply ratcheting up his point totals.
“Donovan is the guy, offensively, that’s most capable of creating his own shot and, usually, that means you can have the opportunity to create for other people.” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “That’s a strength of our team. We’ve been able to turn good shots into great shots with ball movement and unselfishness and Donovan’s been a part of that.”
Exum has been a revelation on offense since coming back from shoulder surgery that kept him out of the lineup until March. He is averaging17.5 points on 75 percent shooting in 22.0 minutes per game during Utah’s current two-game winning streak.
Exum racked up a season-high 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting to boost the Jazz to a 107-97 win over Memphis on Friday that snapped a two-game home losing streak.
“He really did it on both ends of the floor,” Snyder said concerning Exum’s performance against the Grizzlies. “He just attacked on offense and came up with some big defensive plays. It was really good to see after everything he has fought through.”
Los Angeles could use some good guard play of its own right now. The Lakers (33-43) dropped their second straight game, after falling to Sacramento 84-83 on Sunday. It marked the second lowest output on offense for a L.A. team lacking healthy bodies in the backcourt.
Lonzo Ball (knee bruise), Brandon Ingram (concussion) and Isaiah Thomas (hip) were all sidelined against the Kings. It left the Lakers with a point guard rotation of Alex Caruso, who made his first career start, and Tyler Ennis. The duo combined for 11 points and six assists.
As a team, the Lakers shot just 40 percent from the floor. They could not capitalize on a defensive effort that included holding Sacramento to 38 percent shooting.
“This is a game we should win: at home when we hold the opponent to 84 points,” coach Luke Walton told reporters after Sunday’s loss. “We didn’t do a good job of taking it when we had our chance.”
Beating Utah on the road will not be an easy task for Los Angeles. The Lakers have lost five of their last six road contests. They have lost five straight games to the Jazz since beating Utah 101-96 on April 13, 2016, when Kobe Bryant dropped 60 points in his final game of his NBA career.
Utah won 96-81 on Oct. 28 in the most recent game between the two teams this season. Mitchell scored 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting for his first 20-point game of the season.