For the second straight season, the Utah Jazz are on the rise after early-season struggles. Donovan Mitchell is spearheading the surge.
The second-year guard is giving the Jazz offense the boost it needs after kicking it into another extra gear earlier this month. Mitchell comes into Utah's Friday clash with the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves finally playing up to the potential he displayed late in his rookie season.
Mitchell is averaging 28.3 points, 4.9 assists, and 4.3 rebounds in January, all well above his season figures. He is shooting 46.5 percent from the field this month, including 42.5 percent from 3-point range -- both significant improvements from previous months -- and he has scored at least 30 points in five of his past eight games.
"This is what you see when you get a good player who is developing and getting better," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.
Mitchell's offense has helped Utah pile up seven victories in the past eight contests, including a 114-108 victory over the Denver Nuggets, the Western Conference's second-place team, on Wednesday night. Mitchell scored 35 points and tied his season high with six 3-pointers.
"You just got to feel confident with every shot you take and making the right reads and making the right plays," Mitchell said. "The trust my teammates have is great."
Improved offense from Mitchell could be the key for the Jazz in successfully avenging a 128-125 loss at Minnesota on Halloween.
The Timberwolves carry a three-game winning streak into Salt Lake City after beating the Los Angeles Lakers 120-105 on Thursday night behind 27 points, 12 rebounds and five assists from Karl-Anthony Towns.
Minnesota came out on top against Utah the first time around when Derrick Rose exploded for a career-high 50 points. Rose poured in 34 points in the second half.
Whether Rose will get a chance for an encore Friday is uncertain. He sustained a right ankle injury in the first half Thursday and did not return after halftime. Rose, who scored six first-half points against the Lakers, missed six games earlier this season with a sprained right ankle.
The Oct. 31 performance signaled a basketball renaissance for the former NBA MVP.
Rose had been waived by the Jazz less than a year ago after being acquired from Cleveland with Jae Crowder in a trade that sent Rodney Hood to the Cavaliers. He signed a one-year deal with Minnesota over the summer and has quietly turned into valuable performer.
Rose averaged 20.7 points in his past seven games before Thursday. On the season, the veteran guard is averaging 18.6 points and 4.7 assists on the season while shooting 48 percent from the floor.
Rose finished second among Western Conference guards in fan voting for the upcoming NBA All-Star Game. His coach and teammates believe Rose truly deserves to end up on the All-Star roster.
"I'll be the first one to go out and politick for Derrick," Wolves interim coach Ryan Saunders said, according to the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. "Everything he's fought back from in terms of injuries and how he's been with our young guys, and also producing on the court. He should be in Charlotte."
This will be the first of back-to-back games between the Jazz and the Timberwolves. The teams will meet again Sunday in Minneapolis.--Field Level Media
Updated January 25, 2019