SALT LAKE CITY — Exactly two weeks ago, the Utah Jazz made a trip to Quicken Loans Arena to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers by 26 after trailing at halftime.
Even without Ricky Rubio (hamstring strain), Thabo Sefolosha (hamstring strain), Raul Neto (groin strain), Dante Exum (left ankle sprain) and Tony Bradley (right knee surgery), the Jazz delivered yet another beat-down versus Cleveland, 115-99, at Vivint Arena on Friday night.
Utah is 8-1 over its last nine games, riding a season-high six-game win streak.
The Jazz led by as many as 38 points as the franchise honored ex-Utah players Rodney Hood and Alec Burks in their first trip back to face their former franchise. However, the duo combined for just 10 points on the night, with Cleveland stifled to 41.4 percent shooting.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder rested his starters for much of the fourth quarter as Rudy Gobert ended with 19 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks.
Royce O’Neale also recorded his second career double-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds and five assists while Derrick Favors added 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Jae Crowder came off the bench to contribute 11 points, five rebounds and four assists but it was Donovan Mitchell who continued to buy into his role as primary ball-handler without Rubio, Exum and Neto assisting him.
“I think it’s allowed me to be more aggressive,” Mitchell said. “It’s allowed me to understand where I’m getting my looks at and what not but it’s still stuff that I’m learning.”
Mitchell ended with a game-high 24 points, four assists and two steals on 9-for-15 shooting in 26 minutes against Cleveland. It was the second-year guard’s eighth consecutive game of scoring at least 24 points.
“I’ve had to lock in and obviously I’m not the same point guard as Ricky,” Mitchell said. “I’ll help a lot when he gets back, but for right now I’m just trying to find ways to make the right reads, make the right plays.
“Once I start overthinking things, that's when things start to go the wrong way, so it’s just kind of playing and enjoying it and having fun with it and embracing a new challenge.”
After a slow start to the season, Mitchell was honored as Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday for the first time of his career. Throughout this nine-game stretch, the Louisville product is averaging 27.8 points, 5.0 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals while shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 44.3 percent from 3.
Snyder insists that it’s numerous factors that are going into Mitchell’s development at the point guard position. It’s not just him getting more ball handling duties because guys like Joe Ingles and Grayson Allen are also picking up the slack, but it’s that attacking mindset and making reads on the back end of the play instead of trying to read what to do that's benefitting him.
“I think it’s important to kind of differentiate between Donovan playing the point guard. He doesn’t have to play the point guard the way Chris Paul does,” Snyder said. “A lot of things he does at the point guard are things he does when he’s playing two guard, and I like to think of it more of a primary and secondary ball handler.”8 comments on this story
Rubio, Sefolosha and Neto were all re-examined by the Jazz’s medical staff on Tuesday and will be re-evaluated in a week. Exum’s left ankle sprain will keep him out at least two weeks, but in the injured players' absence, Mitchell and Gobert continue to thrive, without much depth due to the injuries.
Utah (25-21) will host the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday as the Jazz look to win their seventh straight.
“I mean they are really unique,” Jazz guard Kyle Korver said of the Mitchell-Gobert duo. “I don’t know if there is a certain duo that I can think of off the top of my head. Donovan, even in the time that I have been here, I feel like he is seeing the game, slowing down more, he’s making great reads.”