Well, this isn’t a name we expected to see at the top of the NBA leaderboard when we made our predictions for this year’s best teams back in early December! With a record of 31-13, however, the Utah Jazz are on a roll! They’ve got the third-best record in the NBA, trailing only the Los Angeles Lakers in the West! As they rack up win after win with the eighth-highest offensive rating in the league, sports experts and fans can’t help but ask if this is for real. Especially since they’ve been claiming victories without their intended starting point guard, veteran Mike Conley. Well, now Conley is back and they’re still winning. In fact, they’ve won 13 out of their last 14 games! So… are the Jazz for real or is this run just temporary?
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Mixing It Up at Point Guard
Joe Ingles and Donovan Mitchell took over at point guard while Mike Conley sat out with a hamstring injury, and honestly, nothing seemed to be amiss. The team’s chemistry felt right and some fans were asking whether they even needed Conley, who had previously been shooting a less-than-exciting 40%.
The team’s star player Rudy Gobert claimed otherwise, however, stating, “We need him. Like I keep repeating, if you wanna go as far as we wanna go, which is winning a championship, he’s a key piece of what we do. We don’t want to rush him, but it’s great to have him back.”
An NBA veteran of 13 years, Conley is slowly easing back into things by not playing the max amount of minutes just yet. In Monday’s game against the Indiana Pacers, Conley fit right back into the team lineup, hitting six out of his nine shots and contributing 14 points in their blowout 118-88 win.
He’s being patient as he finds his groove again after missing 19 games, and Conley says he’s grateful for his teammates’ support, commenting, “Man, we’re a family. Those are my brothers, and they mean everything to me. They’re the ones pushing me through even when I’m not able to be there with them … That support is something you don’t find on most teams.”
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Jazz Trade Rumors, Challenges, Moves Going Forward…
Rather than make any more moves at the trade deadline, it appears the Jazz are just going to focus on reintegrating Conley and moving deeper into the season with him as they start to play some tougher teams. (At least according to comments made by the VP of basketball operations for the Jazz, but hey, anything could happen!) Others are saying that Conley – if he doesn’t step up to his former Grizzlies-level play – is the most logical bargaining chip if the Jazz want to improve upon this team before springtime rolls around.
The Jazz already made moves in December when they traded Dante Exum and a couple of second-round picks to the Cleveland Cavaliers for guard Jordan Clarkson. So far that move seems to have paid off for the Jazz.
They’re definitely not going to mess with core players like Gobert, Mitchell, or Ingles. And they just signed a four-year, $36 million extension with Royce O’Neal, largely for his defensive versatility. With Conley’s return to the lineup, this gives O’Neal some much-needed security about his role.
Some say that Rudy Gobert could use more support in the front-court rotation, but meanwhile, the franchise player is crushing opponents with his dominant defense and point-scoring abilities. The 7’1” Frenchman is as hard-working as he is tall. When he’s on the floor, the Jazz outscore opposing teams by 20.6 points per 100 possessions versus when he’s out. The 27-year-old center is this team’s key difference-maker and they’ll need him to stay healthy if they hope to achieve their goal of hanging a banner this season. After all, they’ve got some stiff competition in the West.
As we look forward, the Jazz will be at home in Salt Lake City this weekend on Saturday when they face the Dallas Mavericks and they’ll stay there on Monday when they play the Houston Rockets. Then they hit the road for three in a row on Wednesday versus the San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets, and the Portland Trail Blazers. We’ve got tickets starting as cheap as $7!