Rodney Hood interrupted the question before it could be finished.
Like many, the Jazz guard knows LeBron James hasn’t won a game at Vivint Smart Home Arena since the 2010-2011 season. Like many, he knows the Cleveland Cavaliers enter Saturday’s game at Utah having lost two in a row and three of their past four games.
Still, Hood isn’t going to fan the flames.
“Nah, we aren’t talking about that,” said Hood said when asked about James’ futility in Utah of past years.
Hood and the Jazz aren’t afraid of the matchup. But they have their own issues to settle and are practicing inner focus. The Jazz are 15-21 overall and finishing up a December in which they had the toughest schedule in the NBA. They were waxed this week by the Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors, losing by a combined 49 points and have fallen from seventh in the Western Conference to 10th.
“We’re bracing for a tough game and a tough matchup, obviously LeBron James is one of the best players in the league.” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We just know they are tough to play against. If you have some success against them, that’s a good thing.”
Overall, the Cavaliers don’t have too much to complain about. They are 24-11 this season and before this week had won 18 of their past 19 games. They will get star point guard Isaiah Thomas back soon from a hip injury that’s kept him out all season, and James is enjoying his best overall season in a decade.
But Cleveland is on a difficult road trip thus far. Losing to the Golden State Warriors 99-92 on Christmas Day is one thing, but Wednesday’s 109-95 loss to the Sacramento Kings is cause for concern.
Still, the Cavaliers have a singular goal in mind — winning a second NBA title in three seasons. For them, accomplishing that means establishing a culture of winning and bringing a certain amount of energy every game. They didn’t do that on Wednesday, and it cost them a victory that could be important later in the season if the race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs is a tight one.
“It happens. Sometimes, When you’re inning as much as we’re winning, you have slippage,” Cleveland shooting guard Dwyane Wade told ESPN.com. “We’ve had some slippage, and we’ve got to nip it in the bud before we dig ourselves in a rut and we’ve got to climb out of it. We’ve got a few days off to watch film and figure out what we’ve done in these last two games that hasn’t been as successful.”
If anything, that’s what makes Cleveland more dangerous to the Jazz. The Cavaliers will approach the matchup with more urgency because they want to get back on the right path. And the Jazz know they will have to guard against that.
Snyder said on Friday afternoon that his team is bracing for Cleveland to play well against the Jazz on what is James’ 33rd birthday. At the same time, Utah desperately wants to finish a sour December on a good note and head into the New Year with momentum.
“This team is one of the best in the league,” Utah point guard Ricky Rubio said. “We have to be ready, because they’re going to come out harder than they have, because when bad results come, great players step up and they have a lot of them. We have to be ready for the battle, because we need this game.”
Cavaliers at Jazz
When • Saturday, 6 p.m.
Where • Vivint Smart Home Arena
TV • AT&T SportsNet
Radio • 97.5 FM; 1280 AM
Records • Utah 15-21; Cleveland 24-11
Last Meeting • Cleveland 109, Utah 100 (December 16)
About the Cavaliers • LeBron James hasn’t won in Salt Lake City since the 2010-2011 season. … The Cavs expect guard Isaiah Thomas to return from injury next week. … Cleveland had won 18 of its previous 19 games, before losing three of its past four. … The Cavaliers are fifth overall, scoring 110.3 points per game.
About the Jazz • Utah is 10th in the Western Conference. … Saturday ends a rough December in which the Jazz enter Saturday with a 4-10 record. … The Jazz have lost 10 of their past 12 games overall. … Utah center Rudy Gobert is expected to undergo an evaluation of his sprained knee on Saturday. … The Jazz will play their next two games at home before going on the road for five games. ... Guard Raul Neto has been diagnosed with a bone bruise in his left knee and remains out.