Struggling Jazz tasked with slowing high-scoring Raptors
SALT LAKE CITY — Toronto is wasting no time making a strong argument that it could be the top Eastern Conference team this season.
The Raptors come into Monday’s game against the Utah Jazz with tons of momentum on their side. They’ve won three straight games — including a 121-107 drubbing of the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night. Stopping Toronto is becoming a chore for teams.
The Raptors (9-1) are averaging 116.7 points per game through their first 10 games. Kyle Lowry is the league leader in assists with 11.6 per game and Kawhi Leonard has regained his All-Star form after an injury plagued final season in San Antonio.
“It’s early, but we’re doing a lot of great things and I think we can only get better,” Leonard told reporters on Friday following his team’s 107-98 win over Phoenix on Friday.
Utah, on the other hand, is trying to find ways to snap out of a sluggish start to the season.
The Jazz (4-5) have lost three straight overall and are 0-3 at home. A 103-88 loss to Denver extended their losing streak. Utah fell apart in the fourth quarter after entering it with a 73-68 lead.
Defensive struggles have been the culprit, a bit surprising considering that Utah finished last season as one of the top defensive NBA teams. The Jazz have allowed opponents to score 108.7 points per game so far this season.
“We have to compete and we have to compete collectively,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said on Friday after a 110-100 loss to Memphis. “You’re not going to be successful every possession, but that has to be where our focus is. Everybody has got to do their job and compete.”
Both teams could be playing with their top scorers on Monday night.
Leonard did not play against the Lakers after jamming his foot in the fourth quarter against the Suns. The All-Star forward is an important component in the Raptors’ success.
He has provided a spark with his play on both ends of the court. Leonard ranks among the top 10 NBA players for both points per game (26.1) and steals per game (2.0). He also leads the Raptors in rebounds per game (7.6).
Toronto managed to overcome his absence against the Lakers on Monday night. The Raptors dominated Los Angeles, racing to a 42-17 lead by the end of the first quarter. Serge Ibaka led the charge, scoring 34 points on 15-of-17 shooting.
Leonard isn’t concerned that his foot will be a long-term issue.
“I feel all right,” he told reporters after Toronto practiced on Saturday. “It feels okay.”
Donovan Mitchell will be sidelined for the second time in the last three games when Utah takes the court on Monday night. The second-year guard injured his ankle in the fourth quarter against the Nuggets and had to be helped off the court. He previously sat out against Memphis on Friday with hamstring tightness.
It will be a blow to the Jazz offense. Mitchell leads the team in scoring with 22.4 points per game on 43 percent shooting.
Rookie guard Grayson Allen will likely get his second NBA start in place of Mitchell. Allen scored nine points on 3-of-8 shooting in his first career start against Memphis on Friday.