Irving, Nets face stiff test from hot Jazz

NBA Basketball
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Kyrie Irving’s first game action in nearly two months could not have gone any smoother as he scored 21 points in 20 minutes against the worst team in the NBA.

On Tuesday, Irving’s second game will be against a significantly different opponent when the Brooklyn Nets host the Utah Jazz, who are on a nine-game winning streak.

The Nets went 13-13 in Irving’s absence due to right shoulder impingement that he said he initially suffered Nov. 4 against New Orleans. Irving played in four more games before the pain caused him to miss significant time and as recently as Jan. 4, he acknowledged he might need surgery at some point, especially since some bursitis developed.

Against the now 8-32 Atlanta Hawks on Sunday, Irving hardly looked rusty as the Nets cruised to a 108-86 win in a game where they led by 39 points. He shot 10 of 11 from the field and his 90.9-percent shooting was the highest of his career and best by a Net this season.

“He was really efficient,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson told reporters. “I liked that he didn’t force anything and he just played like a pro. My fear was being out so long, he’d try to really force things. He was just in a perfect flow — had a nice demeanor and nice rhythm about him.”

Irving’s efficiency and blowout win also helped the Nets get some rest heading into a stretch of five games against opponents who entered Monday with a combined 119-40 record. After hosting Utah, the Nets complete a back-to-back set Wednesday in Philadelphia and then host Milwaukee, Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Lakers.

With their entire team healthy, the Nets are attempting to get three straight wins for the third time this season and the first time since Dec. 4-8 when they beat Atlanta, Charlotte and Denver. The Nets are 5-10 since their last three-game winning streak and dropped seven straight games before ending Friday’s win over Miami with a 17-4 run.

Utah was 13-11 on Dec. 9 but is red-hot since. Besides their current winning streak, the Jazz are 14-1 in their last 15 games, a stretch in which they are averaging 115.1 points, shooting 50 percent and hitting 40.5 percent of their 3-pointers.

Utah is also rolling despite Mike Conley missing the last 12 games due to a hamstring injury. The Jazz continued their roll with Sunday’s 127-116 win in Washington when they overcame a sluggish start by erasing a 15-point deficit in the third quarter after allowing 66 points by halftime.

“It’s pretty good, but we feel like we can be a lot better,” Utah center Rudy Gobert said. “The goal is not just to be second in the West — but be the best team in the West at the end of the playoffs.”

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 31 points and the former Net is averaging a career-high 21 points per game this season. He also is shooting 41.5 percent from 3-point range after shooting a career-high 42.5 percent on 3s with Indiana last season.

Bogdanovic’s big game occurred as leading scorer Donovan Mitchell sat out with an illness. Mitchell became sick during last Wednesday’s game against New York and scored only four points Friday against Charlotte before sitting out.

Mitchell is day-to-day and if he sits out again Emmanuel Mudiay would likely start in his place. Mudiay scored 14 points Sunday when the Jazz also received 23 from reserve Jordan Clarkson.

The Jazz are 9-2 in the past 11 meetings with the Nets. Mitchell scored 30 points in Utah’s 119-114 win on Nov. 12 when the Jazz outscored the Nets 35-22 in the fourth quarter.

–Field Level Media

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