After two exhilarating victories over one of the top teams in the NBA, the Jazz head back on the road for a three-game swing.
It'll be one of the more difficult road trips of the season, beginning with Milwaukee on Saturday and ending with back-to-back games against Cleveland and Detroit. The Bucks and Cavs are among the best teams in the league, while the Pistons came to Salt Lake City just under a month ago and walked away with a victory.
While the competition will be challenging, there's another underlying theme for the Jazz during this trip.
It's a road trip reunion.
Utah will be facing former Jazzman Joe Ingles (Milwaukee), Donovan Mitchell (Cleveland), and Bojan Bogdanovic (Detroit) during the trip. While Ingles isn't expected to play while recovering from ACL surgery, Mitchell and Bogdanovic have been among the better players in the league.
Mitchell is a darkhorse MVP candidate, looking rejuvenated playing for an upstart Cleveland team that is 18-11 and in third place in the East.
He's averaging 29.2 points (42.9% from three), 4.7 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game. He's also found a penchant for defense again, rising to the occasion and becoming one of the league's most difficult players to defend and play against.
Meanwhile, Bogdanovic is enjoying a career season with the Pistons. He's averaging career-highs of 21.1 points on 43.2% shooting from deep, serving as a sensational mentor for a young Pistons squad. Although Detroit is in 14th place in the East, they're a team that is capable of beating any team in the league on any given night — as the Jazz already know.
"We had some good years and still keep in contact. ... It's going to be fun to compete against them," Mike Conley said. "I haven't gotten to play against them so they're going to be fun games."
The good news for Utah is that despite losing four of five starters from last season, now incorporating 10 new players and a new head coach, the Jazz have proven to be as resilient a team as there is in the league.
Leading Utah's resurgence has been the play of Lauri Markkanen and Jordan Clarkson, who combined for 70 points in Thursday's victory over New Orleans. They've emerged as one of the better duos in the game, a pair of scorers who accomplish their goals in different manners but pair ideally together.
"The end of the game is representative of our team. … This team just keeps finding ways to stay attached and stay in games," head coach Will Hardy said Thursday. "It's not one guy making the plays. … It's a variety of guys making a variety of plays. This is who those guys are, and they proved it once again tonight."
But the real leader for the Jazz is their 16-year veteran point guard, Mike Conley. He's by far Utah's most important player, capable of putting his stamp on a game and controlling the tempo without having to score.
Trailing by five with just over 3 minutes to play in regulation, Conley finished with three assists and a pair of free throws to lead the Jazz. He would've had a fourth assist if not for a foul, which added another pair of free throws.
There's no undervaluing what Conley brings to this team from a mental and physical standpoint — The Jazz are 13-6 when Conley starts with 11 of those wins coming against teams above .500.
"Mike manipulated a lot of that stuff on the court, getting me in situations where I had the advantage," Clarkson said. "He's a true point guard, a guy that gets everybody shots, a guy that can really slow the game down when he sees there's a moment where we kind of just out of control and doing wild stuff like I always do. … When it comes to a point guard like, it's rare that you get those kind of guys."
While the Jazz will be looking to improve upon their 17-14 record throughout the three-game road trip, Clarkson and Conley admitted that the upcoming games will be about more than just competition. It's a chance to see old friends and collect on old debts.
"Hopefully Joe has some good restaurants for us. … He's paying," Clarkson said with a laugh. "And Don, he's paying too. Detroit, Bogey, he owes me. … So he's paying as well."