Jazz Vets Dominate Heat To Move To 3-0

Aug 13, 2021, 5:45 PM
NBA Las Vegas Summer League (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)...
NBA Las Vegas Summer League (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz second-year veterans showed up when the team needed them most in a dominant 85-65 win over the Miami Heat on Friday.

With the win, the Jazz moved to 3-0, breaking up the Miami Heat’s undefeated run and ending their chances of playing in the Las Vegas Summer League championship game.

The Jazz meanwhile will face the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday in their regular season finale.

Azubuike Becomes Shaq In Second Half

Going into the game, Udoka Azubuike faced his toughest challenge on paper matching up with Heat center Omer Yurtseven.

The former North Carolina State and Georgetown big man had dominated at the summer league in Sacramento in Las Vegas, and his ability to spread the floor should have pulled Azubuike away from the rim where he is most comfortable defensively.

Instead, it was the Jazz center who got the better of the big man battle scoring 18 points on a perfect 8-8 shooting while grabbing eight rebounds and blocking one shot.

After controlling every game he had played in prior to his meeting with Azubuike, Yurtseven finished with a strong 16 points and 11 rebounds but shot just 6-14 from the floor and the Heat were outscored by 12 points in his 31 minutes on the floor.

Azubuike wasn’t perfect, as he connected on just 2-6 free throws in the game, a weakness that has followed him throughout his career. The poor free throw shooting could make it difficult to play him in the regular season if opposing teams simply foul him to put him a the charity stripe whenever he catches the ball.

Despite the struggles, the Jazz center is confident in his ability to improve.

“It’s going to keep getting better, I’m not worried about that,” Azubuike said. “I know that I’m going to get better, I’m still young.”

After a difficult rookie season that saw him struggle with injuries, Azubuike’s summer league performance has to be a relief for the Jazz front office who invested a first-round draft pick on last year.

Hughes Has Best Game For Jazz

Though the Jazz struggled mightily of the offensive end in the first half, it was Elijah Hughes scoring that helped keep them within striking distance heading into the second half.

Hughes shot a perfect 4-4 for 10 points as the Jazz managed just 32 first-half points, yet trailed by only one at the break.

The wing had a quieter second half, scoring just seven points on 1-4 shooting, but finished with 17 points, four assists, two rebounds, and two steals in 25 minutes for the Jazz.

Hughes was a ball-dominant guard at Syracuse on a team that lacked talent, allowing him to look for his own shot regularly during his sophomore and junior seasons. In the NBA, he plays almost exclusively off the ball which seems to have thrown a wrench into his rhythm offensively.

For perhaps the first time in summer league, he compensated for that disruption by playing with a higher motor, leading to easy fast-break looks and trips to the free-throw line.

In the brief appearances with the Jazz so far, Hughes hasn’t shown off advanced playmaking skills, so he’ll likely have to earn his spot in the NBA by playing hard, knocking down threes, attacking closeouts, and defending, something he said he’s looked to show while in Vegas.

“I have a lot of pride, I want to hold my own,” Hughes said about his defense. “People are trying to get me on switches, I want to be able to hold my own and be able to defend.”

With Royce O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gay, and Eric Paschall playing on the win in front of him, it will be difficult for Hughes to earn regular-season minutes this year. But if he can prove to be an effective 3-and-D hustle player that uses his motor like he did against the Heat, he’ll have a better chance at sticking in the NBA beyond next season.

Forrest Continues To Shine

There isn’t much to say about Trent Forrest that hasn’t already been said through his six prior summer league outings for the Jazz.

His pacing, leadership, steadiness, and understanding of what the coaches need him to do have made him the best player on the roster by a pretty significant margin. As a result, the Jazz rewarded the guard with a second two-way contract on Wednesday, giving the guard another opportunity to prove he belongs in the NBA.

What stands out most about Forrest are his terrific basketball instincts that allow him to impact individual plays in a multitude of ways.

One sequence specifically stood out in the third quarter when off a Jazz miss, Forrest grabbed the offensive rebounding with one hand and in a single motion threw the ball to the corner for an open Dakota Mathias three.

Shortly thereafter on a Heat fast break, Forrest ran back in transition and recognized a Miami lob attempt, deflecting the pass before it led to an easy dunk.

At times in summer league, he’s looked like an expert gamer facing off against novice competition as he makes plays for his teammates that nobody else on the floor sees coming, drawing the praise of his teammates.

“He always has eyes on the court everywhere, he’s a hell of a point guard,” Hughes said of playing with Forrest. “He’s like a flower and he keeps growing and growing.”

How he finds the floor in the Jazz loaded guard rotation remains a mystery, but Forrest has proven to be one of the best players at summer league every time he steps on the floor.

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Jazz Vets Dominate Heat To Move To 3-0