The Utah Jazz, on an 8-1 streak, can beat any team in the league “when we play together and compete defensively,” according to center Rudy Gobert.
They will look to display those qualities on Wednesday when they visit the last-place Houston Rockets.
Utah is coming off a 118-114 road win over the league-leading Phoenix Suns on Sunday.
Gobert produced his 37th double-double of the season with 16 points and 14 rebounds and blocked three shots while fellow All-Star Donovan Mitchell contributed to team highs of 26 points and five assists. But like Gobert and Utah’s three remaining starters, Mitchell posted a plus/minus in the win, controlled by the Jazz‘s five-man bench.
“This year we’ve been through things, we’ve been through hardships and something has happened,” Gobert said. “This change that has happened, it was exciting to see it happen. We don’t take anything for granted.
By beating Dallas before defeating the Suns, the Jazz created a small cushion on the Mavericks for fourth place in the Western Conference and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Rockets, who suffered a 135-101 loss at Utah on Feb. 14, dropped their 10th straight game on Tuesday in the second straight home game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Clippers center Ivica Zubac, who had a career-high 14 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks in Los Angeles’ 99-98 win over Houston on Sunday, recorded another double-double on Tuesday with 22 points and 12 rebounds.
His dominance over the Rockets in the paint could prove worrisome for Houston with Gobert next on the schedule. The Rockets shot just 22 of 49 in the paint against Zubac and the Clippers on Tuesday.
“It’s always a concern when you play Gobert, and Zubac has something to do with it (Tuesday),” Houston coach Stephen Silas said. “We missed some shots that we usually take I think and Zubac had something to do with that as well. We didn’t do a good enough job I guess moving him around. He affected the game again .
The 10-game skid is Houston’s third of at least eight games this season and second of at least 10 games. The Rockets’ wayward shooting — Houston hit just 39.6 percent from the ground on Tuesday — influenced the hosts’ defensive intensity in the Clippers’ 40-point third quarter.
With the losses piling up and the season coming to an end, it’s easy to see how the young Rockets could give in to frustration, especially with another quality opponent on deck.
“It’s the NBA. It’s actually an opportunity,” Silas said. “It’s an opportunity to play against a good team, to learn from that…to learn from the last time we played against Utah and to show who we are.
“It’s the NBA, it’s tough. We have a group of young guys who make mistakes but try as hard as they can. To have the opportunity (Wednesday) to do it against a good team, it’s good for our group.
–Field level media
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