Jazz return home to face struggling Grizzlies
SALT LAKE CITY — Becoming road warriors marks the latest sign that the Utah Jazz are evolving into a true NBA playoff contender this season.
The Jazz wrapped up a five-game eastern road swing with a 4-1 mark, capping it off with an impressive 102-91 victory over Miami on Saturday. Utah never trailed in the second half and handed the Heat their fourth consecutive loss.
Once again, Gordon Hayward is a big catalyst behind the success. Hayward scored 25 points on 10-of-20 shooting against Miami — his fifth consecutive 20-point outing since returning after missing the team's first six games with a broken finger. The 26-year-old forward averaged 24.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists during the road trip.
“I'm trying to help us win games,” Hayward said. “It's a huge road trip for us. It's been a while we've been this successful going out east.”
Utah (7-4) looks to continue that momentum at home when it hosts the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night. If the Jazz can keep up their recent level of defensive play, it shouldn't a problem. They have allowed just 92.4 points over their last five games and 93.1 points over the entire season. Only the Los Angeles Clippers are allowing fewer points than the Jazz.
With a 99.4 defensive rating (based on points per 100 possessions), Utah is emerging as one of the top 5 defensive teams in the entire NBA. It will present a stiff challenge for a Memphis team struggling to generate offense.
The Grizzlies (4-5) scored 100 or more points just once in their last six games and won twice in that stretch. They are averaging just 97 points per game, the fewest of any Western Conference team. Mike Conley (18.8 points), Marc Gasol (18.1) and Zach Randolph (13.8) are not getting much help in the offensive production department.
A 106-96 loss to Milwaukee on Saturday offered a microcosm of what's gone wrong for Memphis on offense this season. The Grizzlies shot 20 percent (6-of-30) from the perimeter and endured several cold shooting spells each time they rallied to get back in the game with the Bucks.
“We had a lot of really rushed possessions with no detail,” Memphis coach David Fizdale said after the game. “We were kind of sporadic and scattered. I was proud of the way we fought back like we always do but at the end, we just didn't execute at a high level.”
Both teams have had to deal with the injury bug early in the season. Tony Allen (groin) and Chandler Parsons (knee) have both seen limited action early in the season for Memphis. Utah has been without George Hill (thumb) and Boris Diaw (leg) for several games and Derrick Favors missed the final three quarters of the Miami game with knee soreness.
The Jazz won the season series 2-1 over the Grizzlies last season. Utah won both games played in Salt Lake City.