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Mitchell shines as red-hot Jazz down Pelicans

By AFP - Jan 20,2021 - Last updated at Jan 20,2021

Mike Conley of the Utah Jazz attempts to drive around Eric Bledsoe of the New Orleans Pelicans during their NBA game in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Tuesday (AFP photo by Alex Goodlett)

LOS ANGELES — Donovan Mitchell scored 28 points to lead the Utah Jazz to a sixth straight NBA victory on Tuesday, a 118-102 triumph over Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans.

Mitchell piled up 15 points in the first quarter on an efficient six-of-seven shooting from the field.

“I was just doing my job and trying to find was to provide a spark,” said Mitchell, who finished with seven rebounds and four assists. “Tonight it was getting to the rim early and trying to be aggressive and score.”

French centre Rudy Gobert added 13 points, 18 rebounds and three blocked shots.

Jordan Clarkson added 18 points off the bench and reserve Joe Ingles, returning from a three-game absence due to an Achilles tendon injury, chipped in 15 for the Jazz who improved to 10-4 to match the Los Angeles Clippers for second place in the Western Conference behind the 11-4 Los Angeles Lakers.

The Pelicans had the edge in the paint, where they out-scored the Jazz 64-42. But Utah drained 21 three-pointers to New Orleans’ six.

Williamson, the 20-year-old taken first overall in the 2019 draft, led the Pels with 32 points and five rebounds.

He was five-for-five from the field in the first quarter and his layup capped a 7-0 scoring run that put New Orleans up 20-18 with 4:09 left in the first period.

Brandon Ingram added 17 points for New Orleans. But Lonzo Ball — back after missing three games with a knee injury — had just seven and Steven Adams scored six and the Pelicans never led in the second half.

It was similarly lopsided in the night’s only other contest, with Nuggets guard Nikola Jokic scoring 27 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in a 119-101 victory over the Oklahoma City thunder in Denver.

Jokic also handed out six assists and with the game well in hand sat out the fourth quarter along with the rest of Denver’s starters.

Monte Morris added 15 points off the bench and Paul Millsap and Will Barton scored 13 points apiece for the Nuggets.

Denver, who reached the Western Conference finals last season but have been off to a slow start in this campaign, improved to 7-7.

Luguentz Dort led the Thunder with 20 points, 15 of them in the first half.

But Denver took control in the second quarter and never trailed after halftime, pushing their lead to as many as 29 points in the fourth quarter.

The Thunder were coming off an unexpectedly long break since a victory over the Chicago Bulls on Friday.

Their game against the Philadelphia 76ers scheduled for Sunday was postponed because the 76ers didn’t have the required eight available players because of COVID-19 health protocols.

Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving returned to the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday after missing the NBA club’s past seven games, saying he “just needed a pause” due to personal issues.

Irving practiced with the Nets on Tuesday and coach Steve Nash said he expect him to play when Brooklyn visits Cleveland on Wednesday.

The 28-year-old American guard spoke generally about family matters and mental health issues in his first comments since the layoff that began after he played January 5.

“Happy to be back. Happy to be around these guys,” Irving said. “We got some great pieces and we just move on and I let my actions and my game speak for itself like I planned on doing. Just needed a pause.”

Since his departure, he was fined $50,000 for violating NBA COVID-19 health and safety protocols after being seen in a video attending what appeared to be a family birthday party, also losing more than $800,000 in salary for missing two games while serving an NBA quarantine.

“Lot of family and personal stuff going on,” Irving said. “I want to leave it at that.”

Irving’s absence, five games for personal reasons and two more for conditioning, began the day of an invasion of the US Capitol in Washington that led to five deaths and increased security for Wednesday’s inauguration ceremony for President Joe Biden.

Irving said he needed to separate being an NBA player from major social issues such as politics or the Black Lives Matter movement.

“If you don’t create that distinction, then it’s easy to feel the weight of the world when you’re going out there and playing,” Irving said.

“I’d be lying sitting here and saying I don’t feel what’s going on in the world, nor am I paying attention to it. I just have a huge responsibility, I feel, to continue to serve my community.”

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