Ayton peaking as Suns visit Jazz

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The Phoenix Suns have been waiting for second-year center Deandre Ayton to start regularly stringing together big performances.

That time appears to be getting closer for the 2018 No. 1 overall pick as the Suns face the Utah Jazz on Monday night in Salt Lake City.

Ayton recorded 28 points, 19 rebounds and three blocked shots when the Suns posted a 112-104 road win over the Chicago Bulls on Saturday. It was his sixth double-double in seven games this month, and he scored 20 or more points in five of the games.

“His dominance on both ends, scoring around the basket and guarding at the rim, guarding in one-on-one situations after a switch,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said of Ayton’s play. “Twenty-eight (points) and 19 boards, that’s a monster night. I told him, we need him to play with that type of disposition every night.”

Ayton also had 28 points and 19 boards in a loss to the Denver Nuggets on Feb. 8 before missing the final two games before the All-Star break due to an ankle injury.

His return against Toronto on Friday wasn’t all that enthralling as he had 17 points and 10 rebounds in a 118-101 loss.

Ayton bounced back a night later with a 12-of-20 shooting performance in Chicago. He collected 10 offensive rebounds and was superb during the fourth quarter, when he had 12 points and eight rebounds.

“It’s one thing when you hear it from Coach on doing the right thing, but it’s another thing hearing it from your teammates,” the 21-year-old Ayton told reporters. “Those (guys) you see every day laughing and joke around, goof around with, but when it’s serious time, you know when they’re serious.

“So just hearing it from everybody saying how much I can take over this game. I just woke up.”

Ayton’s season-high outputs are 31 points and 21 rebounds. He’s averaging 19.0 points and 12.2 boards but has played in just 25 games due to a 25-game suspension for violating the NBA’s drug policy.

Ayton will look for another strong effort when he goes up against two-time reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert on Monday.

The Jazz have won the past eight meetings and 15 of 16. Utah posted a 96-95 win in Phoenix on Oct. 28 while Ayton served his suspension.

Utah has sputtered coming out of the All-Star break, suffering consecutive home losses to the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets. The Jazz had no answers for Houston’s backcourt in Saturday’s 120-110 loss as James Harden scored 38 points and Russell Westbrook added 34.

The Jazz held a four-point halftime lead before Houston took control by outscoring Utah 38-19 in the third quarter.

“We’re not good enough to just walk in games and play lackadaisical and take possessions off,” veteran point guard Mike Conley told reporters. “Good teams like (Houston) will beat us. Our energy was low in the third quarter. I think we didn’t come out with the same energy that we left the first half with.”

Utah coach Quin Snyder noticed, especially on a night when the Rockets outscored his team by 39 points from 3-point range. Houston was 20 of 48 while the Jazz were 7 of 31.

“When we don’t make shots, it really impacts our defense,” Snyder said. “That said, I thought in the third quarter, we didn’t have the same energy we needed on the defensive end. We didn’t get our hands on balls, we didn’t get deflections, and we fouled just once which tells you a little about our (lack of) aggressiveness.”

All-Star shooting guard Donovan Mitchell scored 31 points one night after netting just 12 in the loss to the Spurs.

–Field Level Media

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