Jazz, Magic on roll heading into matchup
SALT LAKE CITY -- Rudy Gobert just keeps elevating his game.
Since returning from a knee injury in mid-January, Gobert has gradually regained his form as one of the NBA's most fearsome defenders and an underrated force on offense. Utah is reaping the benefits of Gobert's continued progression.
The Jazz have won 15 of 19 games since he came back and are on a two-game winning streak going into their clash with Orlando on Monday night. Gobert has played a major role in reviving Utah.
During the 19-game stretch since his return, Gobert is averaging 14.7 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. The French center has double-doubles in 11 of those games. Opposing coaches who game plan against him acknowledge that Gobert makes an impact in multiple ways on both ends when he's on the floor.
"Gobert is as good as it gets defensively," Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said before Utah's 116-108 win over the Timberwolves on Friday. "He's relentless in doing his job and that's what makes him such a good player."
Gobert's performance against Minnesota was one of his finest of the season. He totaled a season-high 26 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks. He followed by rattling off 16 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and three steals in a 98-91 win over Sacramento.
His elevated play is coinciding with a similar rise for Utah (33-30), which is just two games out of eighth place in the Western Conference.
"We're not as sharp as we were before the break, but we're getting better," Gobert said. "With confidence and with just being back playing games, it's been better every game. We've got to keep getting better."
Orlando is also trending in an upward direction. The Magic (20-43) are owners of their own two-game winning streak after topping the Detroit Pistons and the Memphis Grizzlies on back-to-back nights during the weekend. Their new-found momentum will get a stiff test.
Monday's stop in Salt Lake City is the beginning of a 10-day road swing for Orlando. The Magic will face the Jazz, the Los Angeles Lakers, Kings, Los Angeles Clippers and the San Antonio Spurs in that stretch.
For now, things are upbeat in Orlando. The Magic averaged 111.0 points in wins over the Pistons and Grizzlies while shooting at least 50 percent from the field in both games. Aaron Gordon led the way, averaging 23.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals in those games.
Orlando is hoping the good things it did on offense in those games will carry over into a long road trip.
"It's definitely great to take these wins on the road with us," rookie forward Jonathan Isaac told the Orlando Sentinel. "We've been frustrated for a long time, and being able to have some good vibes going into the long flight is going to be great."
Utah crushed Orlando 125-85 in the previous meeting between the teams this season. Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors combined for 56 points to lead the Jazz, who shot 48 percent from the field -- including 41 percent from 3-point range.
Updated March 4, 2018