Red-hot Jazz ready to face Heat in Miami
Goran Dragic put it perfectly when asked about his Miami Heat teammate, Jimmy Butler.
"He's our leader," Dragic said. "We need him."
Butler and the Heat, winners of four straight games, will try to keep it going on Friday night when Miami plays host to the red-hot Utah Jazz, who have the best record in the NBA.
In Wednesday's 116-108 win over the Toronto Raptors, Butler had 27 points, including 14 in the crucial fourth quarter. Butler also had a game-high 10 assists, eight rebounds and three steals. And, to top it off, he made a season-high three 3-pointers, including two in the final minutes.
"That was a quintessential Jimmy game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "It was an all-around, winning game."
Miami is still not 100 percent health-wise. But Dragic returned on Wednesday after missing nine straight games due to an ankle injury.
It is also possible that Tyler Herro will return on Friday. He has been out due to a hip injury, and his return would be huge for Miami because of the scoring punch he provides.
Bam Adebayo leads Miami in scoring (19.6), rebounds (9.6) and blocks (1.0). Butler leads Miami in assists (7.8) and steals (1.9) while averaging 19.5 points and 7.7 rebounds.
Herro is third in scoring (16.9). Dragic is averaging 14.4 points, and those are Miami's four top scorers and key components.
But while the Heat had been struggling before this recent win streak and are not yet back to .500 with a 15-17 record, Utah (26-6) is rolling.
In fact, the Jazz beat Miami 112-94 in Utah on Feb. 13 in the only previous meeting between the teams this season.
In that game, Utah held Miami scoreless for a six-minute stretch bridging the second and third quarters, leading to the rather easy win.
"We know our shots are not always going to fall," Jazz center Rudy Gobert said, "but we have a chance every night because of our defense."
Gobert, who had 16 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in that game, is the head of the Jazz snake when it comes to defense. He is a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year (2018, 2019). He has also made the NBA's First-Team All-Defense in each of the past four years.
Offensively, the Jazz are led in scoring by Donovan Mitchell (24.1), a two-time All-Star (2020, 2021) who is approaching his peak at age 24.
Veteran point guard Mike Conley averages 16.3 points and leads the Jazz in assists (5.7) and steals (1.5). Bojan Bogdanovic averages 15.3 points, and Jordan Clarkson leads the bench scorers (18.3).
In Utah's 114-89 beatdown of the reigning NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night, the Jazz made 22 three-pointers, shooting an impressive 45.8 percent from distance. Mitchell nearly had a triple-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Conley came close also -- 14 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
"We have a lot of guys who can make plays," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "That's who we are and part of our identity."
Conley said the Jazz should have had more than their two All-Star selections this year, which were Mitchell and Gobert.
"We're making history in so many ways, and we should've been rewarded for that," Conley said.
Added Lakers coach Frank Vogel when asked about the Jazz: "They're the hottest team in the league. Nobody's playing as well as Utah right now."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 26, 2021