The Utah Jazz will get their first crack at revenge against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night in Salt Lake City.
Utah took a 2-0 lead on Los Angeles in the second round of last season’s playoffs before the Clippers won the next four games to reach the Western Conference finals.
This time, the Jazz won’t be facing a full-strength Clippers team.
Already without Kawhi Leonard (knee) and Nicolas Batum (ankle), Los Angeles might not have the services of Paul George in Utah. George has missed three consecutive games, including Monday’s game against the Phoenix Suns, due to an elbow injury, and his status is up in the air.
As the teams’ playoff series revealed, being down a star might not prove decisive.
After playing brilliantly to help the Clippers beat the Jazz in two straight games to even the series at 2-2, Leonard sustained a knee injury and missed the final two games of the matchup. Even so, Los Angeles prevailed twice to advance.
George was a huge reason the Clippers got past the Jazz even without their other superstar. He averaged 32.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, six assists, two steals and 1.5 blocks in Games 5 and 6.
As they did in the 2021 playoffs, the Clippers have adapted quite well without key players. Three of the four games in L.A.’s current four-game winning streak were without George, including a 111-95 victory over the Suns.
Marcus Morris Sr. led the Clippers in that rematch of the Western Conference finals with season highs of 24 points and 11 rebounds. The Suns were also down a couple of stars, as Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton were sidelined.
“We’re just getting contributions from all of our guys,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “Our whole team did a good job of just chipping in.”
To wit, Reggie Jackson scored 19 points and Terance Mann added 17. The Clippers also got a 16-point, nine-rebound night from Luke Kennard, while Ivica Zubac accounted for eight points, five rebounds and four blocks.
The Jazz are also coming into this showdown on a tear, having won a season-best seven games in a row, including a just-concluded 4-0 road trip to Cleveland, Minnesota, Philadelphia and Washington.
Not only is Utah getting expected All-Star performances from the likes of Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley, but center Hassan Whiteside is stepping into his reserve role with his new team quite nicely. Whiteside had 18 points and 14 rebounds on Saturday as the Jazz blasted the Wizards 123-98.
Jordan Clarkson, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, contributed 11 points and five assists off the bench.
“I think we’re a better team now than when we left,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “That’s hopefully what competition does for you.”
Mitchell has led Utah in scoring during all seven games of the current streak, averaging 21.8 points and 5.1 assists during that span. He put up 30 or more points in four consecutive games from Nov. 29 to Dec. 8.
–Field Level Media