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Preview: Hornets face a tall task in beating red-hot Jazz

Utah is well-rounded, well-coached, and very good

Charlotte Hornets v Utah Jazz Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

What: Charlotte Hornets (10-12) vs Utah Jazz (17-5)

When: 8:00 pm EST

Where: Spectrum Center; Charlotte, N.C.

How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

The Utah Jazz roll into the Spectrum Center winners of 13 of their last 14 games, boasting the NBA’s fourth-best offense and third-best defense. They currently hold the league’s best winning percentage and rank second in 3-point percentage as a team at 40.1 percent on 41.7 attempts per game. It’s safe to say that this is the best team the Charlotte Hornets have faced so far this season.

After becoming the first player in NBA history to average 35+ points per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from long-range and 90 percent from the line in a playoff series, Donovan Mitchell decided to pick up where he left off in the bubble. He’s posting 23 points, 4.6 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game on 43.0/40.7/82.8 shooting splits while attempting a career-high 8.4 3-pointers per game this season. En route to a second-consecutive All-Star selection—the second of many more to come—Mitchell has the Jazz firing on all cylinders.

“Spida” doesn’t get all of the credit, though. Rudy Gobert anchors one of the NBA’s best defenses and is the main reason why Utah is the best rebounding team in the league (53.4 rebounding percentage). His shooting percentages are down across the board resulting in a 59.9 true shooting percentage, the lowest mark since Gobert’s third season in 2015-2016; it’s funny though, because a 59.9 true shooting percentage would be great for plenty of other players, but for Gobert, it’s not even close to the standard. Part of the issue is him shooting 66 percent on shots at the rim, down from 71.8 percent over the previous four seasons. It’s highly unlikely Gobert doesn’t clean that up a bit.

Lastly, the resurgence of Mike Conley has brought the Jazz to a new level. The 2019-2020 season was pedestrian by Conley’s standards, toting the second-worst field goal and assist percentages and worst steal percentage of his entire career. Thanks to career-high 3-point shooting volume and elevated efficiency, he’s enjoying yet another season as one of the NBA’s premier starting point guards, ranking in the 98th percentile with a +19.8 on/off point differential. With Conley defending the point of attack and spreading the floor as a playmaker, the Jazz are extremely tough to beat.

Every good team has depth; Jordan Clarkson is an early frontrunner for the Sixth Man of the Year award, scoring a career-best 17.7 points per contest on 47.2/39.3/97.2 (!!!) shooting splits, while Derrick Favors has easily slid back into his role after playing one season away from Salt Lake City.

The only player on the Jazz’s injury report is Elijah Hughes (ankle), who will be out tonight.

The Hornets got whacked by the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday but were still able to make a game out of it at the end, and hopefully that energy resurfaces against Utah. Gobert is a similar physical force to Joel Embiid, and the Hornets will have simply no way to defend him for 48 minutes without the frequent double-teams we’ve seen against the Sixers. Utah is the best rebounding team in the NBA and they knock down their open looks—coincidentally, the Hornets are a bottom-10 rebounding team and their defensive scheme is designed to give up shots from deep. Combine that with the necessary attention given to Gobert, and we’ve got a bad recipe. Which adjustments coach James Borrego makes to combat such bad physical matchups and heavy offensive firepower will be interesting.

At time of publish, PJ Washington (right foot sprain) is out and Terry Rozier (right ankle sprain) is probable. If both are out, the starting lineup will remain the same, but if Rozier plays, Borrego has quite a decision to make on whether or not to start LaMelo Ball. Not to get too “big picture” in a game preview, but there are real future ramifications to whether or not Ball keeps starting with a healthy Rozier. Do we commit to the future now, or keep riding Rozier until he gives Borrego a reason not to? Neither one is a bad option.

Knowing the 2020-2021 Hornets, they’ll win this game by 16 and then get shellacked by the lowly Washington Wizards on Sunday, but this should be a fun “measuring stick” game regardless of the result. I’m not a huge fan of the NBA pushing the start time for this game from 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM, but I guess the Jazz fans in the Mountain Time Zone want to watch the game, too.