Jazz look to even season series with Grizzlies
The Utah Jazz enter the closing portion of the season with a schedule that ranks as one of the NBA's easiest going into the final month of the regular season.
Only five of Utah's final 18 games are against opponents currently sporting a .500 record or better, and only three are against teams who sit multiple games above .500. Then again, records can be deceiving in terms of competitiveness against the Jazz, as evidenced by how things have played out with the Memphis Grizzlies this season.
The two teams square off for the fourth time on Friday. Lottery-bound Memphis (26-40) managed to take two of the first three meetings, including both in Salt Lake City. The Jazz averaged 93.3 points per game in those three contests and shot under 40 percent from the field in two of the three.
Utah can draw lessons from back-to-back contests with New Orleans earlier this week on how to handle adversity from the Grizzlies.
The Jazz beat the Pelicans 114-104 on Wednesday night, avenging a 115-112 loss on Monday. In both games, New Orleans rallied from fourth-quarter double-digit deficits. The second time, Utah withstood the rally and pulled away late.
"Our team always responds, within a game and between games," Jazz coach Quin Snyder told the team website following Wednesday's win.
Utah responded by exploiting its advantage in the paint. Derrick Favors scored 25 points in the rematch with the Pelicans. Rudy Gobert added 22 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks.
The duo combined to shoot 19 of 23 from the field and helped the Jazz shoot 52.3 percent overall. Utah also outscored New Orleans 70-54 in the paint.
"Last game, I didn't do a good job of attacking," Favors told the team website on Wednesday. "This game, I wanted to come out and be more aggressive offensively and just try to find my rhythm."
Feeding it inside could potentially work better against Memphis than earlier in the season. The Grizzlies are a much different team following deadline trades that included shipping big man Marc Gasol to Toronto. Gasol averaged 17.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 2.0 steals in three games against Utah, while forcing Gobert away from the basket with his outside shooting.
That doesn't mean Memphis can't hold its own in the paint. Jonas Valanciunas has experienced a bit of a renaissance since coming to the Grizzlies in the Gasol trade. Valanciunas is averaging 18.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.3 blocks in eight games since arriving.
Memphis comes into Friday's game with some positive momentum after rallying to beat Portland 120-111 on Tuesday night behind a career-high 40 points from Mike Conley and a career-high 25 points from Delon Wright. The Grizzlies shot 11-of-16 from the field and registered a season-high 38 points in the fourth quarter.
The Grizzlies won for the third time in five games after Conley shook off a first-quarter ankle injury to score all 40 of his points in the final three quarters, including 19 in the fourth.
"It was a rollercoaster," Conley told the team website after Tuesday's game. "But I'm just thankful that I made it through it."
Conley has had considerable success against Utah this season, averaging 25.0 points per contest.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 7, 2019