SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz being without all three of their point guards as well as rotation regular Thabo Sefolosha (plus seldom-used Tony Bradley and Grayson Allen) on Friday night against the Los Angeles Lakers at Vivint Arena meant some players were going to have larger roles than usual.
In addition to Donovan Mitchell becoming the primary floor general and Joe Ingles getting a bunch of time at point guard as well, two players got career-highs in minutes, Royce O’Neale and Georges Niang.
O’Neale started at Mitchell’s usual shooting guard spot and played a game-high 40 minutes, while the seldom-used Niang played 21.
O’Neale was one of the bright spots on the night, as he finished with 17 points (including five 3-pointers, matching the Lakers’ total), seven rebounds, two steals, and an assist. Niang struggled with his shot for most of the night but finally got a 3-pointer to go with 2:37 remaining in the game and finished with three points, two assists, two steals, and a block.
A 39 percent shooter from behind the 3-point line this season, O’Neale came out firing as the Jazz offense generated open looks for him early, scoring Utah’s first six points of the night on two shots from distance in the first two minutes.
The second-year wing then made another trey at the seven-minute mark of the second quarter before missing his next three. He rebounded to make his fourth 3-pointer of the night with nine seconds left in the second quarter before missing a heave as time expired at the end of the frame.
O’Neale then scored five more points in the fourth quarter, two free throws and his fifth 3-pointer.
“He’s in good shape,” Utah head coach Quin Snyder said of O’Neale. “He’s mentally tough. He played his game, whether he plays eight minutes, 16 minutes or 20, that’s the way we want him to play.”
As for Niang, who has spent a good deal of time in the G League this season with the Salt Lake City Stars, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder hinted pregame that the Iowa State product would figure into the rotation. He got some rare first-quarter minutes and played some in each frame.
While he missed his first six shots, Niang had one of the bigger plays of the night, getting a chase-down block on a layup attempt from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the third quarter that would have cut the Utah lead to single digits. Instead, the Jazz stretched the lead back up to 13 points 20 seconds later on a bucket from Derrick Favors.
“Obviously I wish I would have shot the ball a little better,” Niang said, “but I tried to impact the game in as many ways as I could, the defensive end, spacing the floor.”
Fittingly, Niang’s lone make of the night was assisted by O’Neale.
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