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Jazz need to keep their guard up for shorthanded Nets in return from the road

Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell (45) celebrates with Rudy Gobert (27) during the first half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls Monday, March 22, 2021, in Chicago.
Paul Beaty, Associated Press

When the Utah Jazz return home from their five-game road trip on Wednesday, they’ll have their work cut out for them in their first game back at Vivint Arena, even though the Brooklyn Nets roster will look a little different.

Kevin Durant hasn’t played since Feb. 13, Kyrie Irving has been ruled out for this Nets’ road trip for personal reasons and James Harden is dealing with neck stiffness that had him listed as questionable for Tuesday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Even so, the Jazz’s All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell is quick to point out that the Nets are a deep team and that their arsenal also includes the newly acquired Blake Griffin.

“Obviously Kyrie is out, K.D. is out, but they still have an MVP over there in James Harden,” Mitchell said after the Jazz’s Monday night win in Chicago. “They’ve got Joe Harris, they’ve got Blake they got a bunch of guys, Bruce Brown’s a hell of a defender so we’ve just got to go out there and be ready. Because you know with those guys being out that’s more shots coming from different areas and we’ve got to be ready to cover them.”

The Nets went into Tuesday with a 15-2 record since Feb. 10, just one game behind the Philadelphia 76ers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The game against the Jazz is likely to be the toughest contest for the Nets not only on this road trip, but until they face the Los Angeles Lakers on April 10, so the Nets will be looking to make a statement on Wednesday, no matter who is available to play.

The Jazz will certainly have the benefit of rest after returning to Utah late on Monday night. And, only having played a single game over the last month in Salt Lake City, the comforts of home will be a welcomed luxury for the Jazz players.

“Sleeping in my bed, driving in my car to be honest,” Mitchell said of what’s he’s missed during the team’s time away from Utah. “Just the little things. You appreciate them when you’re on the road, and then can’t really leave the hotel room. Being able just to leave my house and drive somewhere, that’s very underrated after you’ve been on the road this long.”

The Jazz will be at home in front of their fans and starting off a four-game homestand and a stretch that will see them play the next 11 of 14 at home.

But, the good feelings of returning home and knowing that Brooklyn will be brining in a slightly depleted roster has the makings of a trap game, something that Rudy Gobert was conscious of when looking ahead.

“We’ve got to get home from his long road trip, get used to the attitude again, and get ready for another great defensive game,” Gobert said with a nod at the Nets’ offensive prowess. “We know that Brooklyn, no matter who sits, who doesn’t sit, we know that they’re always going to have talent on the floor. It’s going to be a great challenge for us.”

After playing the Nets, the Jazz will be at home for a back-to-back set against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday and Saturday before hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday.