Utah Jazz at Atlanta Hawks key matchup: Ricky and Dennis

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - JANUARY 20: Ricky Rubio #3 of the Utah Jazz makes his entrance before the game against the LA Clippers on January 20, 2018 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - JANUARY 20: Ricky Rubio #3 of the Utah Jazz makes his entrance before the game against the LA Clippers on January 20, 2018 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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The Utah Jazz are coming off an impressive wire-to-wire win over the LA Clippers. They’ll look to keep the momentum rolling in Atlanta on Monday night as they take on the lottery-bound Hawks.

The Utah Jazz are heading out on a three-game road trip following their home back-to-back and it’s crucial for their playoff chances that they come out with at least a 2-1 record. Every loss at this point is damaging given how far Utah has fallen behind.

Stunningly enough, the Jazz haven’t won two straight games since December 4th. However, that is likely to change on Monday night against the struggling Atlanta Hawks, who are coming in tied with the worst record in the NBA (13-32).

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While Atlanta has been disappointing from the outset, point guard Dennis Schroder has had a terrific season and has been the only player that can push them over the line on any given night. Thanks to Atlanta’s poor play, however, most of his hard work goes relatively unnoticed.

Dennis is a pesky defender with a terrific handle who can get where he needs to go on the floor and finish in traffic. When you think about speed getting up and down the court, Russell Westbrook and John Wall are the first two that come to mind, but Schroder has an argument as the quickest player in the NBA.

His elusiveness off the dribble and ability to split pick and rolls with his slight frame make him a nightmare to guard, and if he ever develops a reliable three point shot, he could be in the All-Star conversation for years to come.

Ricky Rubio is coming off a solid outing against the LA Clippers but is striving for consistency while figuring out how to play with two centers. For the first time in recent memory, the combination of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert worked to perfection on Saturday night. The pair had a net rating of positive 30.8 in 12 minutes of play.

Utah Jazz
Utah Jazz /

Utah Jazz

The three-man lineup of Rubio, Favors and Gobert also had a net rating of positive 23.7. I’m not saying they have completely figured it out, but for the first time this season, the big man duo of Favors and Gobert looked comfortable playing with each other, even with a third non-shooter sharing the floor.

Against the Hawks, Utah will have a huge advantage in the paint so Rubio will be a critical part of the offense, tasked with getting the big guys involved. Atlanta has been starting Miles Plumlee and Ersan Ilyasova on the front line so the Jazz will have a huge size advantage down low.

The landscape of the Jazz roster may be destined for change with the likes of Rodney Hood, Joe Johnson and Derrick Favors well and truly on the trade block. Following the return of Dante Exum, it’s not outlandish to say Rubio will be the next out the door. But there is plenty of time for him to turn that around and really make a mark with his play now that Rudy and the band are back together.

If there is a key turnaround in Ricky’s game at all this season, it’s likely to come in this stretch of games. Although his game at the offensive end will require more attention, he’ll have to keep a keen eye out for Dennis Schroder against the Hawks, who is capable of lighting it up on any given night.

Next: Utah Jazz: Rudy Gobert as good as ever, but team defense needs work

Hopefully Rubio and the Jazz can build a win streak with a victory over Schroder and the Hawks. It should be interesting to see how it all pans out.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com.