With Rudy Gobert still out, Hassan Whiteside and Udoka Azubuike form a formidable tag team for the Jazz

The two big men combined for 27 points on 13-for-15 shooting, plus 25 rebounds and three blocks in Friday’s win over Orlando, earning the praise of coaches and teammates for stepping up.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Udoka Azubuike, left, and forward Eric Paschall guard against Orlando's Wendell Carter Jr. (34) as the Utah Jazz host the Magic at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Feb. 10, 2022.

The best professional wrestling tag teams often have a cool moniker to be all the more memorable — Legion of Doom, Hardy Boyz, Hart Foundation, Harlem Heat, Team Hell No …

The Utah Jazz can certainly appreciate this, as rim-protecting centers Hassan Whiteside and Rudy Gobert have been bestowed the collective nickname “H&R Block.” Alas, with Gobert now having missed nine consecutive matches, er, games with a left calf strain, Whiteside has had to get himself a new tag partner. in comes Udoka Azubuike.

If you think the wrestling metaphor is a bit silly, well, take that up with manager, er, coach Quin Snyder, who was the originator of the analogy after his backup big men combined for 27 points on 13-for-15 shooting, plus 25 rebounds and three blocks in Friday night’s 114-99 victory over Orlando.

“Any time you have a player that’s asking to be taken out of the game, who wants to play, that tells you how hard he’s working; that happened tonight with Hassan, and when Dok was coming in, he’s ready to go,” Snyder said. “For our team, if we can develop that type of wrestling mentality — tag-team wrestling, where someone comes up, the other guy tags in, and you go to work — that’s another level of connectedness on a team.”

That’s certainly how it played out against the Magic.

Azubuike got the start again, scored four of the Jazz’s first seven points, and grabbed two quick rebounds. Then at the 7:11 mark, he tagged Whiteside in. The veteran racked up four points, four rebounds, and a block, before tagging Dok back in with 44.5 seconds left in the first.

And so the pattern went.

Azubuike would wind up with a career-high 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting, plus seven rebounds and a block in a foul-plagued 20:56 of court time. Whiteside, meanwhile, totaled a monstrous double-double, finishing with 15 points (on 7-for-9 shooting), 18 rebounds, and two blocks in 27:05 off the bench.

“That just speaks to both their energy levels continuing to rise, and everybody getting better. They’re both getting better,” Donovan Mitchell said afterward. “This is the Dok we saw at Kansas. And Hassan, we’ve seen it, he’s done it. Back-to-back games with 17-plus rebounds, a plus-17 on the floor, impacting the game for us. That’s huge for us. Especially with Rudy Gobert out. Then you’ve got Dok coming into the game, continuing to be a force on both ends the floor.”

Indeed, Whiteside has a proven track record of success, as a former near-All-Star player during his days with the Miami Heat, and having once been among the NBA’s season leaders in rebounds and blocks per game.

Azubuike’s success, though, has been a far more recent development.

His teammates have seen him putting in the work, particularly in the film room.

“He’s starting to pick up the game a little bit more, he’s starting to see plays and tendencies of us,” said Jordan Clarkson. “… You can tell he’s been watching and learning and picking up everything. He knows how to space the floor, he knows when to be in the paint, he’s always looking for that lob pass, and he’s got bounce.”

Speaking of which, arguably the biggest highlight of the game came on consecutive possessions during Utah’s pivotal fourth-quarter surge.

On the first, Azubuike set a screen for Clarkson on the wing, the guard circled right into the paint, while the big man dove left to the rim. The former seemed to rise up for a floater, but instead pushed a lob to the center, who threw it down.

On the next play, Mitchell played the passing lane, stole the ball, dropped it off to Clarkson, who drove the lane, sucked in the defense, then lofted a perfect alley-oop to Azubuike, who had run hard down the court.

Utah had a 10-point lead, Orlando had to call timeout, and Vivint Arena was in the throes of delirium.

“I didn’t think JC was gonna pass me the ball, because we know he likes to shoot the ball a lot,” Azubuike revealed with perhaps too much forthrightness. “But it hyped me up, and it got our team hyped up.”

Clarkson, asked about Dok’s comment, laughed and revealed he’d offered the young center some material enticement early in the season that is paying off in a big way now.

“Me and Dok got a thing. I told him at the beginning of the year, ‘Man, if you go out there and score 10 [in a game], I’ll buy you a Louis [Vuitton] bag.’ And then the first time he went out and scored 10, he tells me, ‘JC, I scored 10. You still remember that bag?’ And I’m like, ‘I got you!’” Clarkson said. “Then he did it again … then he did it again tonight! He had [six points], and then I gave him those two assists — now I might have to get him a little Goyard or something, something luxurious. I’ll get him something special.”

Azubuike wound up getting the walk-off television interview. He also got a sneak-attack water bottle shower from Mitchell in the midst of it.

Afterward, he would repeatedly praise his teammates for teaching him, for being patient with him, for constantly encouraging him and making him believe he belongs.

The same is true of Whiteside, he said, even though Gobert’s impending return could make for a potentially awkward situation in terms of who will get the bulk of the backup minutes going forward.

“Me and Hassan are cool, we have always been cool,” Azubuike said. “I’m pretty sure he understands. Right now, we rotate — I come in, then Hassan goes in. But for us, we understand the most important thing is for us to win. We’re gonna do whatever sacrifice we have to make to win. I understand that, and he understands that, so our relationship is great.”

Gobert, who addressed the media at the pregame shootaround, said that his calf was feeling much better, and that he was going to work out on the court just before the game to determine if he was ready to come back yet. It didn’t happen against the Magic, but it might well Monday vs. the Rockets.

Clearly, the team will get a boost whenever their three-time All-Star center and three-time Defensive Player of the Year does come back.

But in the meantime, the replacement tag team (”The ’Dok ’Side”? Eh, needs work) is holding things down as best it can.

“To have two bigs who are [Gobert’s] backups be able to come out when he’s not playing and do that, that’s big-time,” Mitchell said.