Over the past couple of seasons, the Utah fanbase has become enamored with certain players. 

Whether it was Ricky Rubio’s flare or Derrick Favors’ tenaciousness, there’s always been one player from each season that the fans go crazy for. 

One of those favorites returns to Vivint Arena tonight.

Welcome back, Georges Niang.

Niang returns to the mountains tonight as Utah hosts Philadelphia, a matchup featuring two teams looking for a big win. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. MST and will air on TNT.

Niang, commonly referred to as ‘The Minivan’ by the Utah faithful, got his first real taste of the NBA when signing a two-way contract with the Jazz towards the end of the 2018 season. From there, he carved out a substantial role as part of Quin Snyder’s regular rotation by serving as a sharpshooting backup forward capable of spacing the floor.

During his time with the Jazz, Niang played in 229 games over parts of four seasons. He averaged 5.5 points and 1.9 rebounds per game, shooting an absurd 41.1% from beyond the arc. 

“Georges wasn’t given anything at any point. … You have to trace the lineage of his career so to speak,” Snyder said. “Obviously we don’t want him making five threes. … But I think all of us are happy for him to be in this situation, where a team values him the way that we valued him.”

For Utah though, Niang’s contributions went far beyond the box score. 

According to Donovan Mitchell, Niang’s positive energy and hardworking capabilities made the most lasting impression on the franchise. Although now in Philadelphia, Mitchell says the team still does and refers to things as Niang used to.

“I’m happy to see him tonight, just as a friend. … Obviously as a teammate, he’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” Mitchell said. “He’s never had a bad day, he’s always keeping the energy positive. For him to consistently have the same work ethic, the same mentality, the same positivity every day, that’s not always the easiest thing. I’ve always respected that about him.”

Even with the good vibes surrounding Niang’s return, which will include a video tribute, there’s still an important basketball game to be played for the Jazz.

Having lost four of their past five regular season games for the first time since being in the bubble, Mitchell and co. are looking to change their fortunes with just two more home games remaining in their five-game homestand.

For the Jazz, the recipe for success is simple. Mitchell said they need to tighten up on defense and rebound better — opposing offensive rebounds have been tough — and just knock down open shots. He says the team is getting plenty of good looks, but they just aren’t falling yet. 

“No matter how locked in you are, if you’re guarding and guarding and guarding and you give up a shot late in the clock, then on top of that not rebounding…,” Mitchell said. “We’ll continue to guard, continue to fight. … But when you give up an offensive rebound, then it’s like, ‘damn.’… It’s deflating. Then you miss a shot (on offense), and it’s like, ‘damn.’ It’s a compounding thing. … Being able to guard for 24 seconds is one thing, but we’ve got to come up with the rebound.”

Snyder agreed with Mitchell’s comments, echoing that defense has to be the top priority because shots will fall eventually.

“I think it’s been consistent, unfortunately, over the last few games where we just haven’t, our mindset hasn’t been there,” Snyder said. “We’ll continue to do certain things to emphasize that mindset and talk about it, but ultimately I think it’s these guys got to go out and just do it.”

Mitchell and the Jazz understand that the NBA is first and foremost a business, so watching Niang leave was tough — but they understood. They’re happy to see him do well with the 76ers, averaging career-highs with 12 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game while shooting 39% from beyond the arc.

But that doesn’t mean Utah wants to make his homecoming a happy one in the end.

“The fans are excited to see him, we’re excited to see him,” Mitchell said. “He’s going to talk his trash as he should, and we will. … But it’s always great to have a guy like that come back.”


Utah Jazz
*Rudy Gay: OUT / right heel injury recovery
*Udoka Azubuike: OUT / G League – On Assignment
*Jared Butler: OUT / G League – On Assignment

Philadelphia 76ers
*Joel Embiid: OUT / healthy and safety protocols
*Danny Green: OUT / left hamstring tightness
*Grant Riller: OUT / left knee injury recovery
*Ben Simmons: OUT / personal reasons
*Matisse Thybulle: OUT / healthy and safety protocols

Time: 8 p.m. MST
Location: Vivint Arena / Salt Lake City, UT
Radio: 1280 The Zone 


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