Rubio, Jazz hope to shoot past Raptors (Nov 03, 2017)

November 3, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY -- Writing a new chapter with a new team has gone much deeper for Ricky Rubio than growing a beard and changing his hairstyle. The Utah Jazz guard is quickly turning into a lethal and dependable shooter at critical times.

Combined with his passing skills, it could help Rubio give Utah's offense an extra edge when the Jazz host the Toronto Raptors on Friday night.

Acquired in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves in the offseason, the veteran guard immediately fit in with Utah. He leads the Jazz with 17.5 points per game and dropped a season-high 30 points on 8-of-17 shooting in a 112-103 overtime win against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.

Such a stat line isn't a fluke for Rubio this season. He is a career 37.8 percent shooter, but he is shooting at a 43.7 percent clip through the first eight games of the 2016-17 season.

"I worked on my shot," the 27-year-old Spaniard said. "I worked all summer long, and I'm filled with confidence."

Rubio has brought a different look and feel to the Jazz offense. Utah struggled at the start as his teammates adjusted to his preference for pushing the tempo and zipping quick passes into them. Now, they are starting to see what an offense led by a guard with Rubio's skills can do.

The Jazz (5-3) have won three straight and are averaging 104 points in that stretch. Rubio has averaged 25.3 points on 48.9 percent shooting during the winning streak.

His teammates have complete trust in Rubio and his abilities now.

"I'm learning a lot from him," Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell said. "It started when I had to learn the point guard spot. It just grew from there. He's taking big shots and I'm taking big shots, and it kind of stems from there. When you have guys that want to go to battle, it definitely helps to have that chemistry."

Stopping Rubio is just one of many concerns for Toronto on Friday night. The Raptors are looking for answers after experiencing a rare defensive collapse in a 129-111 loss at Denver on Wednesday.

The Nuggets exploded for 43 points in the third quarter and never trailed from wire to wire. Toronto fell behind by as many as 36 points and never could quite catch up. The Raptors (4-3) allowed a season-high 69 second-half points.

It snapped a two-game road winning streak for Toronto.

"We better wipe it out and use it as a learning experience and not let it become a trend," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "That's your biggest fear. In our history here, it hasn't been, but that's our job as a coaching staff is to make sure."

The Friday game will offer a homecoming of sorts for Toronto backup center Jakob Poeltl and backup guard Delon Wright. Both played for the University of Utah before being drafted by the Raptors. Both players have emerged as valuable contributors off the bench for the Raptors early in the season.

Poeltl is averaging 8.0 points and 7.7 rebounds in 19.3 minutes this season. Wright is chipping in 8.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 24.1 minutes per game. Each player has seen an expanded role this year after being brought along slowly by the coaching staff when first joining the organization.

Sitting and watching at times wasn't the easiest thing to do, but both players now feel confident in their abilities to give Toronto some valuable depth behind stars such as Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas.

"Now it's time for me to step up and kind of prove why they picked me," said Wright, a first-round draft choice (20th overall) in 2015. "I just think it's time for me to step into my role."

Toronto swept the season series with Utah a year ago, winning both games. The Raptors averaged 102.5 points per game in those victories.