Although they are miles apart culturally as well as geographically, Miami and Utah resemble each other when it comes to their current NBA identity.
Gone are the superstars of their past — Karl Malone and John Stockton for the Utah Jazz and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, formerly of the Miami Heat.
So when the Jazz visit the Heat on Monday, it will be a matchup of two teams that are trending toward the playoffs and doing it with a focus on team rather than individual.
The Jazz are led by 6-1 shooting guard Donovan Mitchell (25.2 points per game); 6-8 small forward Bojan Bogdanovic (21.2 scoring average); and 7-1 center Rudy Gobert (14.9 points, and team-highs of 14.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks).
Mitchell is on the edge of stardom, Bogdanovic is one of the best shooters in the league, and Gobert is the reigning two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
With those three doing a lot of the heavy lifting, Utah has won five straight games, but Jazz coach Quin Synder said his system is set up to get everyone touches.
“We have an unselfish team,” Snyder said. “We are a team that is willing to move the ball. It gives everyone an opportunity.”
Miami is led by point forward Jimmy Butler, center Bam Adebayo and rookie shooting guards Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro. Butler tops the Heat in scoring (20.4), assists (6.8) and steals (2.1). Adebayo is averaging a double-double with 15.6 points and 10.6 rebounds. Nunn, who went undrafted, is averaging 16.4 points, and first-round pick Herro is averaging 13.9 points.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra raves about Butler, who is in his first year with the franchise.
“Jimmy is such a giving and unselfish player,” Spoelstra said. “He’s a max player who fits our culture and system.”
The similarities between the Jazz and Heat extends to their coaches.
Both of them worked their way up, doing it the hard way. And both of them have been NBA head coaches only for their current franchises.
Snyder, 53, has been a head coach in college, leading Missouri to four straight NCAA Tournaments and an Elite Eight appearance that matched the best performance in school history. Snyder has also been a college assistant (Duke) and an NBA assistant (four stops) and has coached in Russia and in the NBA Development League.
In Utah, Snyder is seeking his fourth straight playoff berth.
Spoelstra, 49, hasn’t moved around like Synder. But Spoelstra started in the Miami organization as a video coordinator and has risen all the way to greatness. He not only became Miami’s head coach, but also he won four straight Eastern Conference titles and two NBA championships, back when he was directing James and Wade.
This season may be Spoelstra’s best coaching job yet as he has dealt superbly with controversy (multiple suspensions to guard Dion Waiters) and a player who reported to camp out of shape and has yet to contribute (James Johnson).
Both Snyder and Spoelstra have also worked around injured point guards.
For Utah, that’s Mike Conley, who leads the Jazz in assists (4.6) while averaging 13.6 points. He is out due to an injured left hamstring, but it hasn’t slowed the Jazz.
The same can be said for the Heat, who just got back point guard Goran Dragic, averaging 16.1 points and 5.2 assists.
Dragic had missed nine games due to a groin injury, but he had 18 points and eight assists on Friday when the Heat routed the New York Knicks 129-114.
–Field Level Media