Yeah, absolutely. Because I feel good, I feel like I can control the tempo of the game without just scoring but in a lot of areas and I feel mature enough to really take over a game. A different system fits me better, and I’m playing better. —Jazz guard Ricky Rubio
SALT LAKE CITY — Maybe it’s the change of scenery.
Moving from Minneapolis to Salt Lake City, Utah has introduced the league to a different Ricky Rubio: a dual-threat floor general who can score and facilitate.
Rubio logged his fifth career 30-point game in Tuesday’s 117-110 win against the Los Angeles Lakers.
He finished with 31 points, eight assists and six rebounds, leading the seventh-year pro to make a bold claim afterward that this is the best season of his career.
Rubio wasn’t playing, either.
“Yeah, absolutely. Because I feel good, I feel like I can control the tempo of the game without just scoring but in a lot of areas and I feel mature enough to really take over a game,” Rubio said. “A different system fits me better, and I’m playing better.”
Utah (45-33) has now won three straight games and has jumped to the No. 4 spot on the current Western Conference standings.
For the first time in Rubio’s career, he’s won more than 40 games in a season and is in position to appear in his first NBA postseason. He’s not the only one who has noticed a change in his attack, Jazz forward Derrick Favors also sees a different Rubio in a Jazz uniform.
“He’s just been aggressive on the offensive end taking more shots,” said Favors, who ended with 15 points and eight rebounds against the Lakers. “I think in Minnesota he was more of a passer, but now he’s shooting the ball, getting to the rim, spacing the floor, finding guys, and he’s also being aggressive on the offensive end, and it’s helping us out a lot.”
During the first half, Rubio seemed to be on pace for a career-night with 25 points as the Jazz entered halftime with a 65-60 edge. Rubio’s point total was the most by a Jazz player this season, previously topping his 23 in San Antonio on Feb. 3.
For the season, he’s averaging a career-high 12.9 points, 5.4 assists and 4.6 rebounds. Four of his five 30-point performances have happened in Utah this season.
In February, Rubio also went on a hot streak where he averaged 24 points, 8.6 assists and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 55.4 percent from the field and 58.8 percent in 3-pointers over a five-game stretch.
“He’s had a terrific year. Ricky’s a very good player,” said Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau. “He plays all aspects of the game. I think he shot the ball well this year and he’s doing a good job for them.”
Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell also posted 15 of his 26 points in the second half with six rebounds against the Lakers. Utah led by as many as 15 points, despite trailing 9-0 to start the game.
Former University of Utah star Kyle Kuzma started the game 4-for-4 with 10 first-quarter points.
The Lakers didn’t miss a shot until the 6:30 mark in the opening quarter, but never led in the second half despite putting up a tough fight without No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball (left knee contusion), Brandon Ingram (concussion protocol) and Isaiah Thomas (right hip surgery), who were all inactive.
Kuzma ended with 26 points and six rebounds while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 28 point and five rebounds.
“I mean we hung in there for most of the game,” Kuzma said. “We just had a lot of little things. Missed free throws, turnovers, missed box outs. Just stuff that we could have controlled to alter that.”
Six players ended in double figures for the Jazz, but it was Rubio who continued his smooth rhythm to guide Utah to win No. 45.
The Jazz will host the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday at 7 p.m.
“I’m feeling good,” Rubio said. “I’m playing with confidence. Coach has a lot of confidence in me and we’re winning, that’s all that matters.”