A look at what’s trending this week in the NBA:
In a four-day January span, Utah lost to New York and Atlanta to give the Jazz 13 losses in 16 games. Utah was 19-28 and playing out the predictable script for a team that lost franchise centerpiece Gordon Hayward to Boston, could not get Dante Exum on the court and was having a hard time keeping oft-injured Rudy Gobert on the court.
Look at them now.
Utah entered Saturday on a 20-2 stretch with the league’s best defense, a charismatic rookie selected at No. 13 (Donovan Mitchell), a defensive player of the year front-runner (Gobert) and a Thursday regular-season debut for Exum.
Next thing you know, John Stockton will walk back on the court.
Well, as it turns out, the Hall of Famer’s son, David, is playing for the Jazz on a 10-day contract after stints in the G League, Croatia, New Zealand and Sacramento (2015 10-day contract).
It took a startling turnaround just to get the Jazz in the playoff mix, but Utah still is fighting daily for postseason life. The team has injected belief back into a city that had its heart ripped out by Hayward’s choice to leave. Once again, Utah home games are nearly automatic for wins and sellouts.
Utah drafted well (Mitchell), traded well (Rubio, Jae Crowder), discovered players well (Joe Ingles), developed players well (Gobert) and even knew when to let go (Rodney Hood and Joe Johnson).
A fairly new lineup of Rubio, Mitchell, Ingles, Crowder and Gobert has the best NBA net rating among lineups with at least 100 minutes together this season.
Back to the Wall
The foolish sentiment that Washington was better off without John Wall has taken a reality check. There is nothing criminal about recent Wizards losses to elite teams, but the change from an 11-3 start without Wall to a 3-4 rut entering Saturday is a reminder that Wall, especially a healthier version, can help.
Washington’s offense can learn from the increased ball movement with Tomas Satoransky at point, but he offers solid play (10.7 points and 5.8 assists a game in starts), not dynamic play.
Wall is in his seventh week of rehabilitation since left knee surgery Jan. 31, when a six-to-eight-week timetable was put on his recovery. With less than a month of the season remaining and home-court advantage in the first playoff round available, Wall’s return to full health could be a game-changer. His shooting percentage had dropped from 45.1 last season to 41.7 this season.
An NBA game was broadcast live during prime time in India for the first time last weekend, the first of a five-week series of Sunday night games shown there.
Toronto’s game against New York last Sunday and the Raptors’ game against Oklahoma City on Sunday are the first two games aired on Sony networks in India at 10 p.m. local time. It is part of an NBA international broadcast initiative that already shows live games across Europe and Africa.
The league opened the NBA Academy India in May with 21 male prospects receiving scholarships to train in New Delhi.
— Denver’s Nikola Jokic is on pace to become the third NBA player in the last 30 years to average at least 10 rebounds and six assists for a season. Russell Westbrook (2017-18) and Kevin Garnett (2002-03) were the others.
— Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons came within two rebounds of his third consecutive triple-double Friday. He already was the first 76ers rookie to ever record back-to-back triple-doubles on Tuesday and Thursday. His eight triple-doubles are second only to Oscar Robertson (26) for a rookie. Simmons tied Allen Iverson for most 10-assist games (18) by a Philadelphia rookie.
— Westbrook has recorded four consecutive triple-doubles during Oklahoma City’s five-game winning streak. He now has 101 in his career.
— Portland’s Damian Lillard is the only player besides LeBron James and Robertson to record at least 1,500 points and 400 assists in each of his first six seasons.
— San Antonio fell to 10th place in the Western Conference on Monday for its lowest standing this late in the season since Gregg Popovich’s first coaching season in 1996-97, according to Elias Sports Bureau. But after Saturday night’s win over Minnesota, the Spurs were back up to fifth.
— Cleveland is 33-0 this season when entering the fourth quarter with a lead and 7-29 when losing or tied after three quarters.
Houston at Portland: Tuesday, 6:30 p.m. PDT. TV: TNT.
Two of the NBA’s hottest teams over the past month collide at Moda Center, where the Trail Blazers have turned almost unbeatable with a home-heavy March schedule. When they last met Jan. 10 in Houston, the Trail Blazers were just another mediocre NBA team giving up big points (121) to the Rockets even with James Harden out. Portland’s stellar defense dropped off in January but it has been exceptional lately, just as Damian Lillard has earned his way onto some MVP ballots.