SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz are starting to roll again and Rudy Gobert’s return makes them look that much better.
Donovan Mitchell scored 30 points. Bojan Bogdanovic added 22 and Gobert had 14 points in Utah’s 135-101 win over the Houston Rockets on Monday night.
“I was antsy. … I couldn’t wait to get back on the court and be a part of what our team is doing now,” said Gobert, who missed nine games with a left calf strain. Though Gobert was ejected with his second technical foul with 6:33 to play, the Jazz were a plus-19 in the 22 minutes he was on the court.
“It’s great, just his presence. We all know how good he is, how important he is for this team both offensively and defensively. Offensively, rolling to the basket, grabbing those offensive boards and putbacks … and his defense, we all know what he does,” Bojan Bogdanovic said of Gobert, the three-time defensive player of the year.
Jordan Clarkson scored 16 and Hassan Whiteside contributed 11 points and 14 rebounds in Utah’s third wire-to-wire win of the season. Whiteside has grabbed 49 rebounds in the last three games, all in a reserve role.
Eric Gordon, Jae’Sean Tate and Kevin Porter, Jr. each scored 14 for the Rockets, who have lost five in a row.
“A good team like that will punish you. We just didn’t play our game. We were just out there,” Gordon said.
The Jazz went a perfect 6-0 on their homestand, which gave them a three-game lead on Dallas for the fourth playoff seed in the Western Conference. Three of the games were by margins of 23 or more.
“Our competitiveness, our relentlessness, even when we were up by 25 … is helping us establish winning habits,” Mitchell said.
With Gobert’s return, the Jazz had their regular starting lineup for the first time in 13 games. That group has a record of 23-8 this season.
The Jazz defense fell from the top five into tatters early on without the big Frenchman, but the Jazz learned to play without him and held teams in check during the homestand.
“Our energy is different. I feel like something happened within our team. In that slump that we had … it really sparked something. I feel like we’re a team that’s trying to accomplish something,” Gobert said.
The Rockets shot well for most of the game but saw a lot of finger-pointing and conversations after defensive breakdowns and missed passes. The Rockets own the worst record in the Western Conference and since beating the Jazz 10 games ago but have gone 1-9 since.
Houston coach Stephen Silas pinned it on the defense.
“They were getting downhill on their drives. They were offensive rebounding. They had 10 offensive rebounds in the first half,” Silas said. “Once they were getting into the paint, it was the kicks to the 3-point shooters.”
Utah used a 16-0 run bridging the first and second quarter to amass a comfortable margin, and led by as many as 31 in the first half. Utah’s 78 points was season-high for a first half.
Mitchell scored his 30 points on just 15 field-goal attempts, with five 3-pointers and 7 of 8 from the line.
Mike Conley had his worst shooting performance of the season Monday, missing all six of his 3-point attempts and scoring just two points. But Jazz coach Quin Snyder saw Conley making winning plays.
“It’s really important for our whole team to know that you have the ability to impact the game, even if you’re not scoring,” Snyder said. “When your shot’s not going down, what can you do to help your team and Mike’s play tonight showed that.”
Conley had 10 assists and four steals, and the Jazz offense hummed when he was on the court.
“We just got to be connected more, defensive side and offensive side as well. We got to do it together. That’s what Phoenix and all the good teams do — even Utah tonight — moving the ball, defensively very connected. I think when we get on the same page and sacrifice for each other, I think we’re going to make the next step.” — Dennis Schroder on his first game with the Rockets after being traded from the Boston Celtics.
Rockets: Houston shot 50% or better from both 2- and 3-point range in the first half and still trailed by 25 points at the break. … Porter had a team-high eight assists. … The Rockets outscored the Jazz 19-13 on fast break points.
Jazz: Rudy Gay missed his fourth game with a sore right knee. … In the first half, Conley and Mitchell combined for 13 assists — equal to the number of assists for all the Rockets. … Whiteside and Bogdanovic also had technical fouls.
Rockets: Visit Phoenix on Wednesday.
Jazz: Visit the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.
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