Jazz’s improved D gets huge test in Bucks

NBA Milwaukee

Utah Jazz players and coaches liked their defensive effort in Wednesday night’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers. Good thing, because the biggest test in the NBA is coming to town Friday, when reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks visit Salt Lake City.

Both teams were off Thursday following their victories on Wednesday, when the host Jazz edged the 76ers 106-104 and the Bucks continued a four-game Western Conference road trip by beating the Los Angeles Clippers 129-124.

The win over the 76ers snapped a two-game losing streak for the Jazz, who were out-rebounded 92-73 in falling to the Clippers and Sacramento Kings by a combined 12 points.

But things were far different Wednesday, when the Jazz enjoyed a 50-42 rebounding advantage against the 76ers, who entered the game as the NBA leader in rebounding percentage.

“Great defense,” Jazz small forward Bojan Bogdanovic told reporters afterward. “We knew they were going to play big and finally we controlled the boards. I think that was the key of the game tonight.”

Utah also outscored the 76ers 15-10 in second-chance points.

“There’s no magic often times,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder told reporters. “It’s just a level of focus.”

The Jazz will have their focus tested Friday by the red-hot Antetokounmpo, who appears primed to build off his monster 2018-19 season. Antetokounmpo missed a triple-double by one assist Wednesday, when he racked up 38 points, pulled down 16 rebounds and collected nine assists in leading the Bucks past the Clippers.

Antetokounmpo did all this on a night in which Clippers star small forward Kawhi Leonard — who led the Toronto Raptors past Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals last season before the Raptors earned their first NBA title by beating the Golden State Warriors — sat out the first game of a back-to-back set due to “load management.” Leonard has missed two of Los Angeles’ eight games.

“Every organization has their own way that they operate,” Antetokounmpo told reporters following the game. “Obviously, I was excited to play against one of the best players in the league. I think that gets you hyped. That brings out the best of you.”

Everyone the Bucks have faced thus far has gotten the best out of Antetokounmpo. Entering Thursday, Antetokounmpo ranked among the NBA’s top 10 in scoring (fifth at 29.0 points per game), rebounding (third at 14.3 per game) and assists (eighth at 7.6 per game). He is the first player ever to rack up more than 200 points, more than 100 rebounds and more than 50 assists in his first eight games.

The Jazz are likely to be without guards Dante Exum (right knee) and Emmanuel Mudiay (left hamstring). Exum has yet to play this season while Mudiay has been sidelined the last two games.

Bucks guard George Hill’s availability Friday is uncertain after he took an elbow to his eye at the end of Wednesday’s game.

–Field Level Media

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