Where would Joe Ingles be if he hadn’t been picked up by the Jazz in 2014?
“I’d probably be playing back in Australia, sitting on the beach in summer and drinking beers,” the 30-year-old swingman quipped Friday night. “For me, it’s been kind of career changing.”
It seems Ingles keeps getting better as a Jazzman, and he reached a new plateau on Friday night in a 106-94 win over the Charlotte Hornets.
For a Jazz team (27-28) with a short bench — made shorter by pieces that are currently waiting for Utah’s three-team deal to be finalized — that also saw its red-hot point guard banged up, Ingles’ 23 points, six assists and five rebounds were absolutely crucial to picking up an eighth win in a row.
Granted, the Jazz were playing a struggling Charlotte squad (23-32) that had flown in during the early morning hours after a game the previous night. But eight wins is eight wins — the first time the Jazz have won that many in a row since 2010. And with the victory, the hottest team in the NBA kept rolling right after an eventful NBA trade deadline.
Ingles’ career-best night in points was fueled not just by the 3-point shooting that has become his niche, but with layups and floaters as well as he torched Charlotte in the pick-and-roll with Rudy Gobert (20 points, 11 rebounds). Ingles hit 9 for 15 from the floor, and added plenty of trash talk to fill the ears of Charlotte’s Dwight Howard and Kemba Walker.
Unlike several games this season, no one had to push Ingles to fire away.
“We’ve been on Joe to shoot the ball,” coach Quin Snyder said. “I think he was 1 of 5 at halftime (from 3-point range), so the important thing about that is he kept shooting and he didn’t shut himself down.”
Ingles was all the more necessary after Ricky Rubio injured his left hip in the first half. While he still managed a team-high seven assists, he played only four minutes after halftime. Without his punch in the backcourt, and after trading Rodney Hood on Thursday, the Jazz needed extra scoring.
Donovan Mitchell provided some, albeit with difficulty. He took 21 shots to score his game-high 25 points. But two powerful dunks — one in each half — proved to be spirit killers for Charlotte. His final slam in the last three minutes helped finish off the last bit of pep the Hornets could muster behind Kemba Walker (19 points).
Gobert also made the most of his matchup with Howard, going 7 for 8 from the floor and hitting 6 of his 8 free throws. Howard got in foul trouble, particularly in the second half, and Gobert helped close the game with fourth-quarter offensive rebounds and by drawing whistles against the former All-Star, who fouled out.
Sharing was arguably Utah’s best asset: The team had 29 assists on 41 made baskets. Why the rising assist totals?
“Probably just making more shots than we have, really,” Ingles said. “We’ve always been unselfish as long as we’ve been here.”
The Jazz now have just one road game remaining before the All-Star break, at Portland on Sunday, and then begin a six-game homestand. Only one game from .500 and in close pursuit of Denver two games ahead, who’s to say what they can do?
Ingles isn’t setting limits. Neither are the Jazz.