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Bojan Bogdanovic leads the way as Utah Jazz beat Cavaliers and start to return to form

SHARE Bojan Bogdanovic leads the way as Utah Jazz beat Cavaliers and start to return to form
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Utah Jazz’s Bojan Bogdanovic (44) drives past Cleveland Cavaliers’ Collin Sexton (2) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 2, 2020, in Cleveland.

Tony Dejak, Associated Press

CLEVELAND — It’s not like the Utah Jazz were going to wake up one morning and just play perfectly after dropping four straight games. But, slowly but surely, things are starting to turn in the right direction.

“There’s tendency to kind of speak in superlatives,” head coach Quin Snyder said after the Jazz’s 126-113 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night. “We’re not good and then we’re good and it’s what we’re used to and not used to, and we just have to stay steady. ... There were some really good possessions, and we had some letdowns. You’re just trying to shrink those.”

“Guys just started rolling from the beginning and it was a fun night.” — Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley

More than anything, it was the Jazz’s offense that seemed to return to something resembling the team that we came to know through their hot streak this season, and it was Bojan Bogdanovic leading the way to the tune of 28 points, seven rebounds, six assists and one steal in the Jazz’s second consecutive win.

After a stretch of games where Bogdanovic saw his production and efficiency drop to extreme lows, he said he was pleased to see the ball go through the net.

It wasn’t like he was being any more aggressive shooting the ball than normal. Instead it was about him giving himself over completely to his assignment of taking on Kevin Love that translated into offensive production.

“He was phenomenal and even bigger defensively with Kevin Love and the position he had to play tonight and the coverages that we had to call that he wasn’t necessarily familiar with but he did a great job with,” Mike Conley said of Bogdanovic. “I think it just led to his offensive output and the way he played defensively got him going.”

Bogdanovic wasn’t the only one happy to see a little bit of normalcy. Across the roster, each Jazz player showed off their strongest attributes and let their individual strengths take over in the right moments and it didn’t go unnoticed.

“They’ve got guys at all spots that can make you pay,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “Royce O’Neale I think is an underrated defender. ... You’ve got Rudy Gobert in the paint to protect and clean up a lot of things. ... Mike Conley who hit huge shots for them tonight, obviously JC (Jordan Clarkson) and Donovan Mitchell, (Joe) Ingles comes in off the bench, Bogdanovic, I mean you can go down the list. They’ve got guys who have had to carry a team almost and they are good at it.”

O’Neale, Bogdanovic, Mitchell, Conley and Ingles all finished the night in double figures and added three or more assists apiece in the victory over the Cavs. Conley, Bogdanovic, and Ingles alone accounted for 20 of the Jazz’s 30 assists of the night.

It feels a little obvious but the fact is that when the Jazz are playing together and moving the ball around, it can be overwhelming for the opponent, and reminds the team of what it feels like to play for each other and earn a team win rather than relying on the heroics of one player to pull them out of a sub-par performance.

“Not looking just to score but make plays for each other and all season long when we do that it’s contagious and it’s just fun to be out there when we’re playing like that,” Conley said. “Guys just started rolling from the beginning and it was a fun night.”

Of course it wasn’t perfect on Monday and they did let the Cavaliers, the Eastern Conference’s basement-dwelling team, score 113 points and hang around for too long. There were defensive lapses that absolutely need to be addressed.

But, as Mitchell pointed out, that’s not necessarily a terrible thing considering where they were last week, dropping in the Western Conference standings and putting out flat performances across the board night after night.

“We just came together — we got stops, we pushed the pace, we rebounded,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. I don’t mean that in a negative way; we’ve just got some work to do to continue to build.”

This road trip is a good place to look to build on the positive notes seen in the wins over the Washington Wizards and Cavaliers. The Jazz still have the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons left on this East Coast swing and though there are no guaranteed games — the Knicks beat the Houston Rockets on Monday night — the Jazz have the talent to make easy work of at least the Knicks and Pistons and focus their energy in the same way they did in Cleveland: on playing together and leaning on their defense.

“Obviously if you don’t do that a couple games in a row, it shows up in the scoreboard and that’s even more incentive,” Snyder said. “I think the main things is our focus has to be on those things. We need everybody guarding and running back.”

Snyder’s hope is that the Jazz see the progress as just that, incremental steps toward a larger goal. In fact, he’d prefer that his team never feel as if they’ve “arrived” and instead always feel as if there is another step to take.