Philadelphia has hit a speed bump on this West Coast trip, dropping two straight games in Portland and Phoenix, despite the full availability of the starting lineup. Tonight is far from a get-right game, though, as they’ll take the floor in Utah against a Jazz club hotter than any team in the NBA. Utah has won seven straight, and 18 out of its last 19 games, with 16 of those wins coming by double digits. The Jazz are KO’ing one opponent after another like Little Mac rushing through the game to reach Mike Tyson.
Over the last 10 days, Utah has been without Mike Conley due to a hamstring injury. The Jazz haven’t missed a beat, however, simply shifting Shaq-favorite Donovan Mitchell to more of a full-time point guard role. The 2020 All-Star responded by recording 11, nine, and eight assists in consecutive games, any of which would have qualified as a previous season-high.
While Mitchell, averaging 24.2 points per game, is certainly a threat to explode against the Sixers, another possible candidate for the title of “next small guard to torch the Philadelphia defense” is reserve Jordan Clarkson. The 28-year-old veteran is producing his best season to date, averaging career bests of 17.4 points on .583 TS%. His 3-point attempts have skyrocketed, now taking 8.2 treys per game, which he knocks down at a respectable 37.1 percent clip. Clarkson isn’t the only Utah player with the green light to hoist from long-range; the team as a whole leads the NBA at 16.7 attempts per game, and still has the fourth-highest percentage in the league at 39.5 percent.
That accuracy-plus volume formula from behind the arc plays a big role in the Jazz having the fourth-best offensive rating in the league. Combine that with the second-best defensive rating in the league (107.0), anchored by two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, and you don’t need a Director of Basketball Analytics to figure out why the Jazz have the best record in the league.
Tonight is an incredibly difficult test for the Sixers. While they have been fortunate that the rest of the East is struggling a bit as well (Milwaukee has lost three straight, Boston is 3-7 over its last 10, Brooklyn’s defense is comical), nobody wants to drop a third straight game. Philadelphia’s next six games all come against teams with sub-.500 records, so a win tonight could really get the ball rolling towards the Sixers putting some cushion between themselves and the opposition in the Eastern Conference. It won’t be easy, but we’ll see if the East’s top team can overcome the best in the West.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Utah Jazz
When: 9:00pm ET
Where: Vivint Arena, Salt Lake City, UT
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Philadelphia: Shake Milton - out (ankle); Joel Embiid - questionable (back)
Utah: Mike Conley - out (hamstring); Udoka Azubuike - out (ankle); Elijah Hughes - out (ankle)