Jazz ready to launch season at Kings
Utah made only cosmetic changes to a team that was the hottest in the NBA in the second half of last season, winning 29 of its final 35 regular-season games before eliminating Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs.
A team built on consistency and continuity under Quin Snyder once again will count upon a mix of second-year offensive standout Donovan Mitchell and perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert.
The difference this season, veteran Joe Inglis noted, is that the 19-28 club that snuck up on people late last season will not be welcomed guests this time around.
“We were going into places, and teams were probably either not worried about us or weren’t too concerned,” he observed. “We know we’re gonna be scouted. We know Donovan’s gonna be scouted better. If we’re prepared, I think we’ll be fine.”
Mitchell was a one-man wrecking crew against the Kings last season, scoring 28, 27 and 34 points in a 3-0 season-series sweep. Despite the fact that he missed 16 of his 23 3-point attempts, he still managed to shoot 32-for-55 (58.2 percent).
The Jazz lost to Houston in the Western semifinals last season after finishing tied for second in the highly competitive Northwest Division, in which only three games separated first from fifth place.
The opener will serve as a Duke reunion for two of the Blue Devils’ top players last season — swingman Grayson Allen and center Marvin Bagley III.
Allen was the Jazz’s third-leading scorer in the preseason with 65 points in five games. He shot well both from beyond the 3-point arc (13-for-25, 52.0 percent) and overall (51.1 percent).
Meanwhile, Bagley, the No. 2 overall pick of the draft, led the Kings in rebounding in the preseason with 41 in six games. He ranked third in the league in offensive rebounds with 18, trailing only established NBA rebounding standouts Andre Drummond (26) and Steven Adams (21).
“In college, I was on the boards all the time,” Bagley recalled recently of his one and only season at Duke, when he averaged 11.1 rebounds per game. “Now I’m getting comfortable searching for the ball and picking my spots. Same cycle, same process I had to go through when I got to school at Duke — just figuring out on the court where I should get to for offensive or defensive rebounds. I’m starting to get it.”
Bagley joins a Kings team picked by many once again to finish among the league’s biggest losers. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2006, losing 50 or more games five of the last six seasons, including 55 last year.
Sacramento again will have one of the youngest teams in the NBA, with recent former college standouts Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson and Frank Mason III among the regulars surrounding Bagley.