Donovan Mitchell shining as past Draft woes continue to haunt Pistons

Posted at 2:39 PM, Jan 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-14 14:39:03-05

(AP) — Injuries have pressed Donovan Mitchell into assuming point guard duties for the Utah Jazz. Mitchell is flourishing in this new temporary role.

The second-year guard has led Utah to three straight wins while making his presence felt on both ends of the court. Over the last three games, Mitchell is averaging 33.3 points on 53.6 percent shooting. He is also averaging 7.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in that stretch.

Mitchell's play is helping the Jazz build momentum in January much like the team did a year ago. He'll get another chance to impose his will on Monday when the Detroit Pistons visit Salt Lake City.

"My biggest thing is just trying to make the right reads," Mitchell said following Friday's 113-95 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. "That's been my thing since I first got here. Just continuing to play under control and just find guys."

Mitchell's steady hand at the helm is helping his teammates rise to the occasion as well. Royce O'Neale in particular has shined while starting alongside Mitchell in the backcourt over the past two games.

O'Neale scored a season-high 17 points, while making a career-high 5 3-pointers, against the Lakers. Then, he collected a career-high 11 rebounds to go with eight points, four assists and two blocked shots in a 110-102 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Saturday.

O'Neale is averaging 12.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in his last two games. His elevated stats speak to how the Jazz have collectively elevated their play without Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum, and Raul Neto in the lineup.

"We have toughness, we have chemistry," Jazz guard Kyle Korver said. "It is hard to play basketball without a point guard. It is an important position. We have had a bunch of guys step up, Donovan has been great."

The Pistons are looking for a similar scenario to unfold after enduring several dismal weeks on the basketball court. Saturday's 109-104 win over the Los Angeles Clippers snapped a four-game losing streak for Detroit. It offered one rare highlight for the Pistons, who have won just five times in their last 21 games.

Finding consistency on offense has been a major problem in that stretch. Detroit failed to reach 100 points in six of its 16 losses. The Pistons have an offensive rating of 105.9 that ranks 23rd among NBA teams. That could be a problem going up against Utah, a team that ranks fifth in the league with a 104.8 defensive rating.

Blake Griffin is doing his part to try and get Detroit consistently back in the win column. Griffin is averaging 30.5 points on 53.3 percent shooting in January. He scored 44 points on 13-of-23 shooting against the Clippers, his second highest scoring output of the season.

It couldn't have been scripted any better as a revenge game for Griffin, who was dealt by the Clippers to Detroit last season after spending 7 ½ seasons in Los Angeles.

"It's nice to get that game over with," Griffin told the Pistons team website. "I compare it to the first game of the year. Such a big hype leading up to it and once it's done, you've got play 81 more. Now we've got to play 41 more. It's over. We've got a lot of basketball left to play."

Utah and Detroit will square off for the second time in January. The Jazz won 110-105 on Jan. 5 after rallying from an 18 point second-quarter deficit. Mitchell keyed the rally by scoring 24 of his 26 points in the second half.