|Jazz defense looks to clamp down on Hawks' improved offense|
The Utah Jazz, currently playing some of the best defense in the NBA, will try to maintain that trend on Thursday when they continue their long road trip in Atlanta against a Hawks team that has be reborn offensively since the All-Star break.
The Jazz (42-29) have held opponents to fewer than 100 points in four of the last six games. Atlanta (24-48) ranks second in the league in scoring (119.5 points) since the break.
The defense has been crucial for the Jazz, who have won five straight after Wednesday's 137-116 road victory over the New York Knicks. Utah is virtually assured of making the playoffs, but could wind up anywhere from fourth to eighth in the Western Conference. The Jazz will be playing the third game of their four-game road trip against Eastern Conference foes when they square off with the Hawks.
"I think our style has been to play really good defense and then find some ways to get some offensive runs going," Utah guard Kyle Korver told the media after the game. "We've done that the last few games and I think closing out games has been key for us ... we're doing all right. We're doing better."
Utah is led offensively by Donovan Mitchell, who scored 30 points in the win over the Knicks and is averaging 23.6 points on the season. Rudy Gobert scored 25 in the Jazz's first meeting against the Hawks; he averages 15.4 points and 13 rebounds and is second in the NBA with 56 double-doubles.
Atlanta will be trying to break a three-game losing streak. The Hawks have fallen into a rut of starting slow, getting behind early and trying to dig out of a hole. Their efforts have fallen short against Boston, Orlando and Houston in recent days.
The Hawks continue to be led by second-year forward John Collins and rookie point guard Trae Young.
Collins leads the team in scoring (19.7 per game) and rebounds (9.8 per game) and has 30 double-doubles. He's had 20 points and 10 rebounds in 18 games, the fifth-highest total in the Eastern Conference and the most by a Hawks player since Al Horford had 20 such games in 2012-13.
Since the All-Star break, Young ranks third in the NBA in total assists (119), is tied for fourth in free throws made (89), fourth in assists per game (8.5) and ninth in points scored (350). For the season he's averaging 18.5 points and 7.8 assists.
Young had 21 points and 12 assists in Tuesday's 121-105 loss to Houston. It was his 13th game with 20 points and 10 assists, the most for any Hawks player since the team moved to Atlanta before the 1968-69 season. He has 24 double-doubles and is 19th on the NBA's all-time rookie assist list (561).
In the last two games, the Hawks have struggled to get to the free-throw line. Against Houston, the Rockets shot 30 free throws and made 22, while the Hawks were 12-for-15. Against Orlando, the Magic were 26-for-33 from the line while Atlanta shot only 10 and made seven.
"Frustrating night," coach Lloyd Pierce said after the Houston loss. "You come in with a mentality to attack and get annoyed trying to get free throws. It's frustrating for our guys. I thought we competed, we had some turnovers at bad times, but the difference in the free throw battle hurts us."
This is the final meeting between the two teams this season. Utah won the first game 128-112 on Feb. 1 in Salt Lake City.
--Field Level Media