When: 9:00 pm EST
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena; Salt Lake City, UT
How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
Tonight’s meeting with the Utah Jazz marks the exact halfway point of the Hornets’ season (game #41), as well as the end of the teams’ two-game series this season. Their first matchup saw the Jazz win 114-107 in Charlotte, the second loss in what would become a season-long six-game losing streak from mid-to-late December.
Bojan Bogdanovic had 26 points on 8-8 from the line in that game, while Rudy Gobert scored 17 points and hauled in 19 boards. Donovan Mitchell dropped 20 points and nine assists. The Hornets were in control for most of the first two and a half quarters, but the Jazz eventually realized they shouldn’t be losing to the PJ Washington-less Hornets and outscored them by nine in the final frame to pull out the road victory.
Donovan Mitchell has been one of the more unheralded guards of this season. He’s averaging 24.7 points on 46.3% from the field, a 3.4% improvement from last season. The biggest knock on Mitchell is that he’s an inefficient chucker, but at least he’s working to have “inefficient” removed from that title. He’s a fringe All-Star this season and probably won’t make it, but he’s a big reason the Jazz have righted the ship after hobbling out of the gates, especially in their last 10 games. His FG% jumps to 49.4%, and his assist percentage to 22%. Mitchell being a willing playmaker for others takes the load off of Bogdanovic and Ingles to create for themselves, as well as giving Mike Conley the option to play off-ball when he returns from injury.
I mentioned the Jazz have righted the ship. Did I mention they’ve won seven in a row and are 12-1 in their last 13 games? Well, I did now. Utah is scorching hot coming into this game, with that one loss being by three points to the Heat after flying between Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Charlotte, and Miami in five days. They have played a lot of mediocre teams in that stretch, but good teams beat mediocre teams. The Jazz are doing that, handedly. They last played at home on Wednesday and dismantled the Knicks, 128-104.
Against New Orleans on Jan. 6, Bogdanovic put up the most beautiful stat line that NBA fans have ever witnessed. He posted a smooth 35 points (11-21 FG, 3-9 3PT, 10-10 FT), zero rebounds, zero assists, zero steals, zero blocks, three turnovers, and three fouls. The only other player in history to do that was Allan Houston with the Knicks in 2000, and Bojan is the only one to have scored 25+ with no other positive contributions to the team twice, also doing it in March 2018 against Sacramento. The ultimate bucket-getter. Literally just running around and shooting the ball whenever he touches it. That takes commitment.
In case you wanted to actually talk about the game tonight, let’s move on; the only player on Utah’s injury report is Conley (hamstring), who should be out for another week or so. Royce O’Neal has been starting in his place, with Mitchell moving to the point.
Marvin Williams (nose) is listed as questionable, but I’d imagine he plays after missing Wednesday’s game. Masked Marv would be amazing. Everyone plays better with a mask, just ask Rip Hamilton.
Terry Rozier is coming off of a 27-point outing against the Raptors, seven of which came in overtime before his game-winning three just barely clanked off the right side of the rim. If you haven’t figured it out already, Terry is this team’s closer. He should be the one with the ball in his hands when the Hornets need a bucket. He’s better at getting to the line than anyone on the team, he’s a good free-throw shooter, and his step-back three creates so much space that he can almost always revert to that if he needs to get a shot off quickly. If the Hornets are lucky (unlucky?) enough to play a close game again tonight, the ball will assuredly find Terry in crunch time.
Rudy Gobert is one of the league’s most overrated players. He simply cannot defend smaller/faster players, and he’s routinely played off the floor in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Hornets simply do not possess long and athletic players (*cough* Onyeka Okongwu *cough*) to stop him. Gobert will probably feast on the boards against the league’s 27th-best rebounding team, but if they run something like this to get the big fella out in space, Devonte’ Graham and Terry should be able to put the moves on him. What makes their defense hard to crack, though, is how switchable it is. Mitchell has freakishly-long arms (6’1” with a 6’10” wingspan) that let him defend any guard or wing, while Ingles, O’Neal, and Bogdanovic are all serviceable-to-good defenders on the perimeter. All four of them can switch on nearly every screen while Gobert plays a drop zone by himself because he’s so damn big.
Being the first of a four-game Western swing, it would be a confidence-booster to get a win. Then again, who knows how their internal body clocks will adjust to the time difference after one day. They head to Phoenix, Portland, and Denver after this, all of which are really late starts (Phoenix is the earliest at 8:00PM EST). The NBA has it in for me. 10:00PM EST tip-offs are physically impossible to stay awake for. I look forward to falling asleep in the third quarter of these games and waking up to the sound of the buzzer while Eric Collins summarizes the game using creative metaphors.