Jazz expect LeBron, Cavaliers to be in tune tonight

Rodney Hood of the Jazz on the lack of success of LeBron James-led teams in Salt Lake City: "Nah, we aren’t talking about that."

Sure, the Cleveland Cavaliers have lost three of their last four games as they invade Vivint Smart Home Arena tonight in Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Jazz.

And, it’s true, Cleveland has had a woeful history in games played on the road against Utah, as in 8-30 (.267).

Even the great LeBron James, who sports a career 29.4 points-per-game all-time against Utah (the second-highest scoring average against any opponent in his stellar 15-year career), has had more than his fair share of struggles against the Jazz in Salt Lake City.

James’ teams have not emerged with victory in hand at Utah since he and his Miami Heat did so in the 2010-11 season. They’ve lost six in a row at Utah, including a 110-92 loss by the Cavaliers on Jan. 10 of last season. James has put up his usual stellar numbers in Salt Lake City, though, averaging 27.2 points, 7 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game.

However, don’t expect the Jazz (15-21) to expect anything but a tall task tonight against Cleveland (24-11).

“Nah, we aren’t talking about that,” Jazz guard Rodney Hood said when asked about James’ struggles in Salt Lake City.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder agreed.

“We’re bracing for a tough game and a tough matchup,” he said Friday. “Obviously, LeBron James is one of the best players in the league.

“We just know they are tough to play against. If you have some success against them, that’s a good thing.”

It’s been a disappointing road trip so far for the Cavaliers, who were felled on Christmas Day at Golden State, 99-92, and piggy-backed that with a lethargic 109-95 embarrassment at Sacramento on Wednesday night.

“It’s a long season,” James said Friday. “There’s going to be peaks and valleys and ups and downs. An NBA season is like Napa Valley, there’s a lot of hills, a lot of roads traveled. There’s going to be some highs, there’s going to be some lows. You just got to try to stay even keeled in the midst of it.

“Obviously, I don’t like losing and you feel it after a game, but you move onto the next one. We’ve got to be prepared to go against this (Utah Jazz) team, which plays exceptional basketball at home.”

However, previous to the recent rough stretch, Cleveland had won 18 of 19 games, including 109-100 verdict against Utah in the first matchup this season back on Dec. 16 at Quicken Loans Arena.

On the flip side, to say December has not been kind to the Jazz would be an understatement. Utah has lost 10 of its last 12 games, including being drubbed in a pair of contests earlier this week by the Denver Nuggets and the Warriors, bowing by a combined 49 points. The losses dropped the Jazz to 10th in the Western Conference playoff chase.

Utah has been playing without starting center Rudy Gobert, who will undergo an evaluation of his sprained knee today. Guard Raul Neto also remains sidelined with a bone bruise in his left knee.

And with the Cavaliers looking to salvage the finale of their three-game road trip — on LeBron James’ 33rd birthday, no less — the Jazz realize what they are up against, Cleveland’s — as well as LeBron’s — lack of success in Salt Lake City notwithstanding.

“This team is one of the best in the league,” Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio said of the high-powered Cavaliers, who are average 110.3 points per game, the fifth-highest mark in the NBA. “We have to be ready, because they’re going to come out harder than they have, because when bad results come, great players step up and they have a lot of them.

“We have to be ready for the battle, because we need this game.”