Jonas Valanciunas has been a dominating figure over his last three appearances for the Memphis Grizzlies.
The 6-foot-11 Lithuanian seeks a fourth straight stellar effort, and the Grizzlies attempt to win for just the second time in their past 10 games when they visit the Utah Jazz on Saturday.
Valanciunas is averaging 28 points and 15.3 rebounds while making 34 of 51 field-goal attempts (66.7 percent) during the stretch.
After two strong outings to begin the span, he missed back-to-back contests due to flu-like symptoms. But the center didn’t miss a beat when he returned Wednesday by scoring a season-high 32 points to go with 13 rebounds in a 106-99 road loss to the Chicago Bulls.
“I was doing everything that I can,” Valanciunas said after recording his 12th double-double of the campaign. “We need some wins. We’ve got to pull some out.”
Veteran forward Jae Crowder is playing with Valanciunas for the first time and likes what he sees and envisions that it will only get better.
“Obviously, we know he can score on the block,” Crowder said after the Bulls game. “We got to get him touches early. Hopefully, it will open the court up if we can make some shots for him. We got to do a better job of that next game.”
This is the third meeting of the season as the Grizzlies and Jazz split two November games in Memphis.
Mike Conley’s return to town after playing 12 seasons with the Grizzlies was the overwhelming storyline but his play was largely underwhelming as he made just 8 of 32 from the field and averaged 11.5 points while being outplayed by Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant.
Morant (back) is likely to be sidelined for the latest encounter and there is a chance Conley won’t play either. He is listed as a game-time decision due to a hamstring injury that caused him to miss Wednesday’s 121-96 loss against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Conley’s absence was far from the only issue against the Lakers as Utah committed 20 turnovers and was outscored 32-5 on fast-break points. The loss was the third straight and fifth in six outings for the Jazz.
Utah has lost by 19 or more points three times during the dismal period.
“At the beginning of the year there was a determination and a focus defensively, and it showed,” Utah coach Quin Snyder told reporters.
“More recently, we’ve allowed other things, whether it be a missed shot, perception of a bad call, a turnover — everything is lingering. Our inability to get to the next play has hurt our defense.”
Reserve big man Ed Davis told the Deseret News that struggling now is preferable to February, March or April. That said, the manner in which Utah is losing is more disturbing that the actual results.
“We’re down because we want to be in a better position than we’re in now with a 12-10 record, but we can’t go back in the past,” Davis told the newspaper. “We can just take it one game at a time. We’ve got a favorable stretch coming up with a lot of home games and games that we should win.
“We just got to take one game at a time and handle business (Saturday) and go from there.”
Utah star shooting guard Donovan Mitchell scored 29 points against the Lakers, after averaging 18 during a three-game stretch in which he was just 19 of 57 (33.3 percent) from the field. Mitchell averaged 24.5 points in the two games against the Grizzlies.
Morant, who is missing his fourth straight game, isn’t the only ailing Memphis player. Rookie forward Brandon Clarke (oblique) will miss his third consecutive game while forward Kyle Anderson (heel) will likely sit out for the fifth time in six games.
–Field Level Media