Utah Jazz aim for eighth straight win in Dante Exum’s return against Phoenix

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 2: Dante Exum #11 and Head Coach Quin Snyder of the Utah Jazz talk during a preseason game against the Sydney Kings on October 2, 2017 at vivint.SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 2: Dante Exum #11 and Head Coach Quin Snyder of the Utah Jazz talk during a preseason game against the Sydney Kings on October 2, 2017 at vivint.SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images /

Dante Exum will be back in action on Thursday night as the Utah Jazz aim to defeat the Phoenix Suns for their eighth win in a row.

This is not a drill, Utah Jazz fans. I repeat, this is not a drill.

It’s now official – the formerly injured Jazz guard Dante Exum will be making his return in Thursday’s game against the Phoenix Suns as he’s officially listed as available for the contest. I gave my thoughts on what he will bring to the team upon returning earlier today, and I’m ecstatic to see it all come to fruition.

Exum has been considered a potential missing link for the Jazz as he was believed to be in line for big things this season before going down with the shoulder injury he sustained during the preseason. His return couldn’t come at a better time as he’ll be able to take over the minutes formerly occupied by backup point guard Raul Neto who was recently diagnosed with a fractured left wrist.

Expect Exum to have some rust, but if he’s able to adapt quickly and show more of the promise he displayed during Summer League and preseason, he could very well give this Jazz team a significant extra edge as they look to continue to push their way into the playoffs. Utah is red hot and it’s almost hard to picture them playing any better, but Exum could very well push them over the edge beginning with Thursday’s contest in which his team will be seeking an eight consecutive win.

The Utah Jazz are coming off one of those games where they simply could not be stopped on Tuesday when they hosted the Detroit Pistons. They led the entire way, jumping to a 42-21 first quarter lead, and never looked back from there, leading by as much as 39 and eventually winning 110-79. Utah shot over 55 percent from the field and absolutely killed Detroit on the boards 52-32.

It was one of those efforts where Utah could have easily beaten any team in the league with how well they played. That will be especially true in Thursday’s upcoming contest as the Jazz will host the even less daunting Phoenix Suns. It’s hard to imagine the Jazz putting up as much of a shooting and defensive clinic as they did on Tuesday night, but if they’re able to come anywhere close to repeating it, they should easily be able to stomp the Suns.

Phoenix is right in the thick of the great Tankathon with the top pick in the 2018 NBA Draft well within reach. Their 19-50 record is the second worst in the entire NBA with only the Memphis Grizzlies holding a worse mark. They’ve currently lost six games in a row as well as nine of their last ten, and hold a pitiful 10-25 record on the road.

With all that coming together, this certainly appears as if it will be an easy win for the streaking Jazz who have won seven in a row and 19 of their last 21. However, per the usual, the Jazz have to keep their foot on the pedal and not get complacent if they hope to come out on top. They have seemed hungry and have been absolutely focused lately, so I’m not too worried about them posting an undisciplined game.

However, one area that the Jazz certainly need to clean up is their turnovers. It’s hard to nit-pick in a 31-point victory, but Utah did turn the ball over 24 times in the win over Detroit. Since the All-Star break, they’re averaging 17.6 giveaways per game. That would be dead last in the league if maintained over the course of the entire season.

Fortunately, the Suns aren’t that great at forcing turnovers. Their opponents average just 13.2 per game against them (26th in the league) and Phoenix posts just six steals per game, which is tied for last. However, in an embarrassing loss to the Suns earlier in the season, the Jazz did turn the ball over an appalling 23 times. It feels like these are two completely different teams since then, so I have a hard time foreseeing a repeat of that lackluster effort, but it’s still something to be aware of.

Furthermore, the Suns aren’t anything to write home about on either offense or defense, but the Jazz will need to stop Phoenix’s leading scorer Devin Booker, who’s averaging 25.2 points per game on 43.6 percent shooting from the field and 38.4 percent from behind the arc.

The Jazz have done exceptional work against him this season, as they’ve held him to 40 percent or less shooting from the field in all three of their matchups this year, which included a 7-of-24 from the field and 0-of-7 from deep night back on February 2nd in a 129-97 blowout win for Utah. The recently returned Dante Exum may even get some time to show just where he is in terms of his former defensive prowess by spending some time checking Booker.

Although Exum will likely have a limited role in his first contest back as the Jazz ease him into the rotation, just the fact that he’ll be back in uniform will be an absolute delight to see. And although the Jazz will need to be careful with Booker and have to tone down the turnovers, beyond that this should be an easy win. Based on how well they’ve played in recent contests, I expect such to be precisely the case and that Utah will come out on top in commanding fashion.

My Prediction: Jazz 125, Suns 104

Next: Utah Jazz: Dante Exum’s return will add excitement, intrigue to season’s stretch run

The Jazz and Suns tip-off on Thursday at 7:00 PM, then Utah will be back in action against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday at 7:00 PM as well.