As the Los Angeles Lakers struggle to find an identity in the absence of Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder, the Utah Jazz are firing on all cylinders as they sit atop the Western Conference standings. Utah’s impressive 25-6 record also good is good for the league’s best.
Spearheaded by fourth-year guard Donovan Mitchell — who is averaging 24.5 points per game — the Jazz are playing exquisite team-first basketball. Everyone is sharing the ball in order to generate open looks, as the Jazz are first in the league in 3-pointers made (16.8), with the third-best conversation rate (39.7%).
Alongside Mitchell’s explosiveness, Mike Conley has rejuvenated into a new player after a disappointing debut season with Utah. Rudy Gobert is anchoring the painted area with 14.0 points and 13.5 rebounds per game to go along with 64% shooting.
Many have been pointing to Wednesday’s matchup since the Jazz began their blistering stretch. Lakers veteran Jared Dudley included.
“If any player ever tells you they don’t look at other teams, they’d be lying,” Dudley said. “That’s the first thing. We look at everybody and you respect everyone.”
Dudley added that the Jazz are reminiscent of the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks team, except that Utah’s personnel with Mitchell and Gobert is something the Atlanta squad lacked.
“Utah kind of reminds me of the year that Atlanta, I think they won 60 games,” Dudley said. “I would say the difference is they have a little more star power with Donovan Mitchell being able to break down a defense; Atlanta didn’t have that. Rudy Gobert, how he protects the paint, Atlanta didn’t have that.”
With the season enmeshed in uncertainty because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, continuity and familiarity with players, coaches and schemes have all been crucial, and with Utah, Dudley said they check those boxes.
“I think they’re the one team that kept everyone and their chemistry level with all starters coming back,” Dudley said. “They added Favors, who is basically a Utah guy as it is. How many years was he there? They didn’t lose anything, guys got a little better, maybe a little healthier. They’re a force to be reckoned with.”
Even as Utah has displayed pure dominance on both ends of the floor, Dudley is aware they’re not the only potential contender to monitor.
“You’ve got to take a look at Brooklyn, their three stars and the way they’ve played,” Dudley added. “And Joel Embiid with Doc Rivers out there in Philly. We definitely have to take a look at that and how Embiid is getting the ball 75% of the time. There’s no other player like Embiid in that low post. And you still have the Clippers and Denver.
“It’s definitely going to be a handful. Everyone knows here in L.A. it’s always hard to repeat, but I think guys are up to the job. Hopefully, after this little break we get our second win.”
LeBron James warns Lakers of tough matchup with Jazz
Snapping the current three-game skid won’t be a simple task for the Lakers. As they prepare to face Utah Wednesday, LeBron James is well aware of the task that awaits.
“It’s going to be a helluva challenge,” James said. “We know that team has been playing extremely well. One of the hottest teams in the NBA, if not the hottest team along with Brooklyn, and also along with Washington if you really want to keep it honest; Washington has won five straight.
“But Utah has been playing extremely well this year, they’ve been moving the ball, sharing the ball, that ball is popping and they’re shooting the hell out of the 3-ball, so we’ve got to be able to cover the 3-point line.”
Have you subscribed to our YouTube channel? It’s the best way to watch player interviews, exclusive coverage from events, participate in live shows, and more!