SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — About a decade ago, Rudy Gobert looked up to French countryman Evan Fournier, and there was no question who was the better player.
A night after Gobert hosted Fournier and Nikola Vucevic for dinner at his home, it’s clear the Utah center rules the court.
Gobert had 21 points and 17 rebounds to lead the Jazz over the Orlando Magic 94-80 on Monday night.
“It’s always fun to play against Evan, one of my best friends,” Gobert said of his teammate with the French national club. “He’s a very competitive guy.”
Fournier was the star when they were teenagers, but Gobert has grown in height and talent. Against Orlando, he made 9 of 10 attempts, mixing in a jumper with mostly dunks and one-handers around the rim. And then there’s his defense.
“Rudy in the paint is kind of the center of the whole defense and it puts a lot of pressure on us guards to really finish or make good decisions,” Fournier said.
Donovan Mitchell scored 19 points and Joe Ingles added 18 points, eight assists and seven rebounds for the Jazz, who have won three in a row and 15 of 17. Still, the Jazz sit 1 1/2 games outside the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“I don’t see us not making the playoffs,” Gobert said. “We went through a lot with injuries … and now we got a groove that’s good enough to not only make the playoffs but do something in the playoffs.”
Vucevic had 15 points — most coming from the perimeter outside Gobert’s reach, including three 3s — and 12 rebounds while Aaron Gordon had 13 points for the Magic, who had their modest two-game winning streak stopped.
Utah’s Derrick Favors was a late scratch because of neck spasms in pregame warmups, so Jonas Jerebko stepped in and scored 12 points. Ricky Rubio also had 12 points.
Knowing Gobert was patrolling the paint behind them, the Jazz were able to drive shooters off their preferred spots and close out on 3-point attempts. Utah wasn’t hot from long range either, but they got a lot of easy shots at the rim.
“We had great looks, great open looks early and even late, but we just weren’t hitting them,” Mitchell said. “But our defense kind of pushed us through. That’s always been our staple and we’ll take a defensive win over an offensive win any day.”
After Orlando averaged 111 points in wins over the Pistons and Grizzlies, the Magic shot just 34 percent.
“That’s why they’re an elite defense,” Orlando coach Frank Vogel said. “(Gobert) deters everything at the rim and everybody else stays home, so the extra passes weren’t always there.”
Powered by Ingles’ hot long-range shooting, the Jazz went on a 12-0 run toward the end of the second quarter and led 54-44 at the half.
Magic: The Jazz raced to a 9-0 lead to open the game but the Magic bounced back with 10 straight points. … Gordon and Fournier both shot 4 for 18. … Orlando’s bench outscored the Jazz reserves, 26-12.
Jazz: Utah posted an 11-15 record when Gobert was out with injuries this season, but have a 15-4 record since the big Frenchman returned. … Not known to say much to the officials, Utah coach Quin Snyder had to be held back by his assistants, got two technicals and was tossed with 52.9 seconds left in the game. … Ingles had 16 points in the first half. … The Jazz outrebounded the Magic 48-36.
As they did against Minnesota and Sacramento, the Jazz frittered away a big second-half lead and had to quell a rally to win. Utah led by 16 points in the third quarter only to have the Magic battle back within 80-73 midway through the fourth quarter. But Mitchell, as has become his habit, took over in the clutch time and scored seven points down the stretch.
Magic: Visit the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night.
Jazz: Visit Indiana on Wednesday night.
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