SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz are one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now with five straight victories and seven wins in their last eight games, which has moved them up to the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference standings. Friday night, they’ll be facing the team with the worst record in the NBA when the Cleveland Cavaliers (9-35) pay a visit to Vivint Arena.
It sounds like a pretty lackluster matchup, except for one thing. It will be homecoming night for two longtime Jazz players, who should be warmly received by the Vivint crowd when they are introduced in the starting lineup.
Alec Burks played for Utah for eight seasons after being selected No. 12 by the Jazz in 2011 before being traded to Cleveland in December for Kyle Korver. He missed parts of three seasons with injuries and averaged 9.4 points and 2.9 rebounds in 382 games with Utah.
Hood played three full seasons for the Jazz after being drafted out of Duke in 2014 before being traded after playing 39 games in 2017-18. He averaged 13.1 points during his Jazz career, but was supplanted in the starting lineup by rookie Donovan Mitchell and was traded for Jae Crowder, who has put up similar numbers (11.8 ppg).
The pair are the third and fourth leading scorers for the Cavs as Hood averages 12.8 ppg and Burks 12.1 ppg.
Guard Jordan Clarkson, who hasn’t started any games for Cleveland this year, leads the team in scoring at 17.0 ppg and is followed by rookie Collin Sexton at 14.6, who starts at point guard.
For 16 of the past 20 games, Hood and Burks have been the starting guards for the Cavs. The other two starters are forward Cedi Osman (11.9 ppg) and center Tristan Thompson (11.7 ppg)
A little bit of the edge has been taken off the homecoming game as far as the Jazz players are concerned because the two teams met just two weeks ago at Quicken Loans Arena where the Jazz cruised to a 117-91 victory. In that game, Burks was his team’s leading scorer with 17 points.
Both Hood and Burks talked at the time about their stints with the Jazz, how much they enjoyed playing in Utah and how they’re trying to make the best of their situation in Cleveland.
“A lot of those guys are like family,” Hood said before the recent Jazz-Cavs game. “It’ll be fun to go against them.”
“It’s going to be like practice used to be — we’ll see what happens,” Burks said.
The two former Jazzmen have enjoyed the opportunity to play together for their new team.
“He’s one of my good friends that I always had, and just to have him here, a familiar face, has been good for me, and I’m sure for him being traded and having somebody that can show him some stuff here,” Hood said of Burks.
The Jazz have been winning despite being shorthanded for the past several games with all three of their true point guards out with injuries. The players — Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum and Raul Neto, along with Thabo Sefolosha — were re-evaluated on Tuesday and will each be out at least until next Tuesday, with Exum out a week longer.
But the Jazz are making the best of the situation, with Donovan Mitchell, who has scored at least 28 points in seven straight games, leading the team and Rudy Gobert putting up big numbers (23 points and 22 rebounds against the Clippers, 18 points and 25 rebounds against Detroit).
“I’m just trying to build and work and not overthink things,” Mitchell said after Wednesday’s 20-point win in Los Angeles. “I had a slow start to the year, but I’m starting to find my groove a little bit just trying to find ways to keep working.”
Mitchell said one key to his play is not trying to act like a point guard in the absence of the team’s usual point guards.
“Last year I kind of pressed and was trying to be a point guard and that led to my shaky second round against Houston,” he said. “For me, it’s being the same player I am and not thinking and ‘I’ve got to be a point guard and I’ve got do this or do that.’”
GAME NOTES: Kevin Love has played in just four games for Cleveland this season, sidelined with a toe injury with no timetable for a return. … The Jazz will play three home games next week, against Portland Monday, Denver Wednesday and Minnesota Friday. … Gobert’s back-to-back 20-plus rebound games are the first for the Jazz since Karl Malone in 1988. … Gobert still leads the NBA in field goal percentage at 65.2 percent and his rebound average has jumped to 13.0, fifth-best in the league. He’s also fifth in the league in blocks at 2.04 per game.