SALT LAKE CITY — At one point in Friday night's matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers, Donovan Mitchell's momentum carried him up a few rows into the stands behind the Utah Jazz basket.
Considering how the made-for-SportsCenter highlight machine played in this ESPN-televised game — not to mention his dramatically improved play of late — it's almost surprising Jazz fans didn't lift Mitchell up and pass him around the appreciative and hyped-up crowd.
The second-year star carried the injury-plagued Jazz to a rousing 113-95 win over the much-improved Lakers with 33 points, nine assists, two blocked shots and one rim-crushing dunk that JaVale McGee would prefer to never think of again.
On a night when the Jazz needed an extra boost because of the absence of their top three point guards, Jazz coach Quin Snyder loved how Mitchell attacked, attacked and then attacked some more to keep the Lakers on their heels.
"He was ready to go tonight," Snyder said of Mitchell, who hit 14 of 24 shots with four 3-pointers.
Mitchell wasn't the only Jazz player who played like he'd put in extra preparation for the team that stands between an on-the-rise Utah team and a playoff spot.
Royce O'Neale got the Jazz off to a great start, hitting two quick 3s, and finished with 17 points while getting extended minutes to fill a gap left by injuries to point guards Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum and Raul Neto.
O'Neale finished with 17 points, going 5 for 12 from beyond the arc, while also hauling in seven rebounds with two steals. He ended up playing 40 minutes, which is more than he'd played combined in the past four games (38 minutes).
"Royce, we’ve said it time and time again, he knows it — if you’re open, be ready to shoot, take your shot and shoot it with confidence," Snyder said. "Royce has earned his playing time and minutes on the defensive end and being opportunistic offensively."
The Jazz — with their "next man up" mantra — also got valuable contributions from Rudy Gobert (12 points, 18 rebounds), Derrick Favors (15 points, 13 rebounds), Joe Ingles (14 points and a career-high 12 rebounds) and several bench players, including seldom-used Georges Niang (plus-13 in 21 minutes).
Even G-League guard Naz Mitrou-Long can brag to friends about outscoring LeBron James in this one, 2-0. (He might leave out the fact that James missed the game because of a left groin strain.)
Snyder liked that the Jazz made it tough on the Lakers, who shot just 35.9 percent and scored 17 points fewer than their season average of 112.2 points per game.
"We guarded. We defended well," Snyder said. "I thought guys were disciplined tonight."
The Jazz took over the game for good in the second quarter, and Mitchell was in the thick of it. Spida had an especially outstanding spurt later in the quarter. In a 55-second stretch, Mitchell posterized the 7-foot McGee by driving down the lane and then throwing in a hammer dunk with jaw-dropping power, reminiscent of his huge dunk over Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball a year ago. Spida then blocked a Kyle Kuzma point-blank layup attempt and followed with an assist on one of Ingles' two 3-pointers.
Understandably, Jazz fans went berserk in that Mitchell-mania moment, which gave the home team a 20-point lead two minutes before halftime. Mitchell had 10 of his 19 first-half points in that critical second quarter.
The Lakers fought their way back within 10 in the third quarter, but Utah settled down, increased its lead to 15 heading into the fourth and never looked back.
Snyder gave his players credit for adjusting to the Lakers' switches.
"It took a while to get adjusted. We started thinking and stopped attacking," the Jazz coach said. "But I thought we played our way out of that."
Reserve Michael Beasley led the LeBron-less Lakers (23-20) with 17 points.
After scoring 41 points in his last outing, Kuzma, the former University of Utah standout, only scored 11 points on 4-of-18 shooting in his homecoming.4 comments on this story
"We couldn't ever get a rhythm going. We couldn't find it," Lakers coach Luke Walton said. "I think once we were struggling to score we let that affect our overall energy which is something we talk about. It's a good learning experience for our guys. It's unfortunate we didn't find it tonight in a game against a good team that's pretty close to us in the playoff race, but it's the NBA."
JAZZ NOTES: Utah improved to 22-21, marking the first time the team has been above .500 since its 7-6 record two months ago. ... Laker guard Josh Hart was assessed with a Flagrant Penalty-1 for pushing Gobert, who hit both free throws. ... The Jazz are home again Saturday night at 8 against the Chicago Bulls, who lost 146-109 at Golden State on Friday night.