When: 9:00 PM EST
Where: Vivint Arena; Salt Lake City, Utah
How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
CHA: Cody Martin: out (health and safety protocols).
UTA: Udoka Azubuike: out (ankle), Malik Fitts: day-to-day (shoulder), Elijah Hughes: out (G League assignment), Miye Oni: out (G-League assignment).
Just one game removed from the Hornets returning all five players sidelined after positive COVID-19 tests early in the month, Cody Martin has entered health and safety protocols. Granted, losing one player is a bit easier to stomach than losing five, but the NBA’s 30th-ranked defense can ill afford to be without a perimeter stopper (and 3-point shooter) of Martin’s caliber for very long.
Charlotte’s season-long trend of spotting their opponent an inordinate number of points in the first half has continued as of late, giving up 81 points to Portland and 69 to Phoenix in the first 24 minutes. At this point, the defensive lapses aren’t caused one any one group — coaches, players, front office, etc. Everyone has work to do tonight if the Hornets hope to limit the league’s no. 1 offense enough to give themselves a chance to compete.
Rudy Gobert is averaging a league-leading 14.8 rebounds to go with 15.1 points per game on 73.8 percent shooting. Gobert has kept Utah’s defense up to the standard they’ve set for themselves in recent seasons as regular-season juggernauts and Hassan Whiteside has been his usual self as a backup — Whiteside’s rebounding percentage (20.9) isn’t far off from Gobert’s (22.7) and the Jazz are the NBA’s best rebounding team.
Offense is where it’s at with the 2021-22 Jazz — the only NBA team that’s better offensively than the Hornets is Utah. The Jazz’s 117.2 offensive rating blows second-place Charlotte’s (113.2) out of the water. They’re one of three teams (Golden State and Minnesota) taking over 40 3-pointers per game, and they convert at a 37.1 percent clip, third in the league.
Donovan Mitchell is 10th in the NBA in scoring at 25.2 points per game, in large part to a newfound penchant for taking long-range bombs and hitting them with efficiency over the last 10 games. He’s making 40.2 percent of his 9.7 3-point attempts per game in that stretch and is one of the best inside-the-arc finishers at his position on the year, ranking in the 73rd percentile on FGA at the rim (66 percent) and 83rd percentile on mid-range FGA (49 percent), per Cleaning The Glass.
Statistically speaking, Joe Ingles is the best driver in the NBA (no info on how Ingles performs behind the wheel of a car). Among players with at least 50 drives to the rim per NBA.com/stats, Ingles ranks first with a 72.4 field goal percentage with Mitchell in 12th at 56.7 percent. Ingles has been a model of efficiency throughout his career, a reflection of Utah’s offensive philosophy as a whole. He, Bojan Bogdanović and Jordan Clarkson provide spacing that makes screening actions involving Gobert and Conley or Mitchell much harder to defend.
The Jazz are just a wildly good regular season team. They’re an excellent rebounding team, they shoot efficiently from every spot on the floor and have a roster well-equipped to match up with any lineup, small or large. Charlotte has been sliding lately — seven of their last 10 games were losses — but playing with a purpose from the tip and putting in effort on defense to make life difficult for Utah’s scorers will put them in position to succeed. With how strong the Hornets tend to close games, just keeping it close will give them a chance.
James Borrego’s rotation management will be an interesting note tonight. Half of the team is trying to get their wind back after missing 10 days of action, while the other half is totally gassed after carrying the team through those six games. Ish Smith has re-joined the rotation and has played well. James Bouknight did not play against Portland and received 12 minutes in Phoenix as a result, and JT Thor has been assigned to the Greensboro Swarm as they compete in the G League Winter Showcase in Las Vegas.
One more game after tonight and we’re back in the Queen City. Just gotta get home in one piece.