It's almost like the Jazz have done this before.
Struggle through the first half of the season, awaken the beast that is Donovan Mitchell, rip off a huge late-season push.
It's a familiar tune in Utah, one the Jazz played last year en route to the Western Conference's No. 4 seed. They're remixing the same song now, its key note (thus far) ringing clear after an improbable 115-111 comeback over the league-best Bucks on Friday.
Mitchell was front-and-center in Utah's erasing of a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit. The second-year guard, whose early-season struggles were well documented, netted 19 of his career-high 46 points in the final quarter. Remember the Mitchell of last season, the one that would take (and make) the kind of shots reserved for eight-year veteran All-Stars?
So are the Jazz, who once languished as low as 14th in the West. Now they are sixth and climbing, just two games back of third-place Oklahoma City.
Mitchell's making it happen.
|Jazz pre-turnaround||17-26 (Jan. 15)||18-20 (Jan. 1)|
|Mitchell pre-turnaround||18.9 ppg, 3.3 apg, 10.4 PIE||20.1 ppg, 3.4 apg, 9.3 PIE|
|Mitchell post-turnaround||22.1 ppg, 4.1 apg, 11.4 PIE||27.6 ppg, 5.0 apg, 13.5 PIE|
This isn't to discount Rudy Gobert, whose return from injury last year was the catalyst to Utah's 2017-18 about-face. Yet as important as Gobert is on defense, Mitchell is just as vital to the offensively challenged Jazz.
Now, finally, it appears he and Utah are the player/team everyone thought they would be entering the season. Because the West wasn't absurd enough already.
LeBron's weird night
We're not used to seeing the King like this. Below .500. In danger of missing the playoffs. Compiling stats, yet producing viral gaffes. The weirdness continued against the lowly Suns, against whom the playoff-hopeful Lakers fell, 118-109.
We can forgive the Lakers' committee of subpar centers for giving up 26 points and 10 rebounds to No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton. What's baffling was the lack of urgency with a much-needed win available against (by far) the worst team in their conference.
LeBron showed up for a fourth-quarter push and finished with 27 points, 16 assists and nine rebounds. He also did this.
While that might make this week's edition of Shaqtin' A Fool, the bigger eye-opener was James missing a pair of free throws with the Lakers down just five with 47.4 seconds remaining.
The Lakers could hardly afford this loss -- again, one they should not have suffered -- to begin with. Now they're 4.5 games back of the eighth-place Clippers with 19 games to play. Beating those same Clippers on Monday would be a great way to wash the taste of Saturday night out of their mouths.
Eastern race heats up
Orlando, Miami and Detroit all left Saturday as winners, a huge deal in the standings traffic jam out East. The Magic would be in the playoffs if they started today, but the Heat are just a game behind both them and the Hornets.
The Pistons, meanwhile, now sit in a virtual tie for sixth with the Nets. The distance separating all five of the aforementioned teams: just 2.5 games.
It should only get nuttier from here.
Do the 'do that dad do
You know you're bringing up your kid right if he wants to be just like you. Shout-out to Dwyane Wade for acing that facet of parenting, as he and his son showed up to Saturday's game with identical hairstyles.
Like father like son... Dwyane Wade x Zaire Wade pic.twitter.com/JqzOZWTQHi— NBA (@NBA) March 3, 2019
Jrue Holiday is already acknowledged as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, but this game-clinching steal against the contending Nuggets was borderline thievery.