Red-hot Jazz entertain struggling Pistons

NBA Basketball
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The Utah Jazz have caught fire in the last two weeks and they return home to face the ice-cold Detroit Pistons on Monday.

Utah has won seven of its last eight games, including a 120-107 road triumph on Saturday against one of the league’s top teams, the Los Angeles Clippers. It had nothing to do with load management, either, as the Clippers both of their superstars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Utah’s defense held that duo to 12-for-44 shooting.

Royce O’Neale was primarily responsible for Leonard’s poor shooting performance and also recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“Royce did a great job on Kawhi,” guard Donovan Mitchell told the team’s website.

Mitchell played a starring role with a game-high 30 points and nine assists. Detroit will likely put its defensive ace, Bruce Brown, on Mitchell. But the Jazz will be hard to stop, especially after their impressive win at Staples Center.

“This shows a lot about who we are,” Mitchell told the website. “We obviously had a rough patch, but we’ve come a long way and really picked it up. It’s a big win, but it’s only December and we’ve got to keep it going.”

Jordan Clarkson has given the team a boost in his first two games since being traded from Cleveland for guard Dante Exum and two second-round draft picks. The shooting guard supplied 19 points in 25 minutes off the bench in his second game with the Jazz.

“These guys are just talking to me, a lot, just giving me pointers on calls and everything so that’s helping me come along fast,” Clarkson said.

The only stumble for the Jazz during the eight-game stretch was a three-point loss to Miami. They’ve done it mostly without starting point guard Mike Conley, who hasn’t played since Dec. 17 due to a hamstring injury.

Detroit began its longest road trip of the season, a six-city excursion, with a woeful performance. It was blown out by San Antonio 136-109 on Saturday.

The Spurs took control with a 42-point outburst in the third quarter.

“I thought we competed hard until that time and then the avalanche hit and the resilience (was lacking),” coach Dwane Casey said. “We didn’t bounce back. That was the disappointing thing. The fact that I thought we were very competitive, had a very good spirit, and when they threw a haymaker, it knocked us back and we didn’t bounce back from it.”

Casey expressed irritation with his star player, Blake Griffin. The power forward, an All-Star last season, has struggled with injuries and his shooting this season. He was 3-for-16 from the field while scoring 12 points on Saturday.

“We all know where Blake is (physically) and he is an All-Pro player, he’s a great player in his own mind,” Casey said. “He is not at 100 percent, so you talk to him about that, but I’m not going to get into what goes on behind closed doors.”

The Pistons have lost six of their last seven games and are playing without top perimeter shooter, Luke Kennard. He’ll miss the entire trip due to bilateral knee soreness.

–Field Level Media

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