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Once upon a time this season, Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder grew so weary of the daily Danté Exum questions from the media that he all but asked for them to stop.
There was a Exum question after Tuesday night's 106-87 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. Only this time, Snyder was more than happy to speak about his young guard.
"The Danté questions are becoming more reasonable because [of] the bandwidth from Danté being somewhere where we are worried about him to somewhere where we're thrilled about him," Snyder said. "The reality is, Danté is getting better."
Exum has been one of the most polarizing topics around the Jazz this season. He's gone through stretches where he's looked like the promising rookie he was before his ACL knee injury. Then there have been stretches where Exum looked nowhere near ready and playing time became scarce.
But with George Hill and Raul Neto missing the past four games due to groin strains, Exum received a respite from Snyder. He's earned the starting nod in those games and responded in the last three after struggling in the first one.
His numbers aren't mind-boggling, averaging 9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists. His standout defensive effort Tuesday night against Blazers star guard Damian Lillard was a key to Utah's win. Exum held Lillard to 2-of-11 shooting in the first half, and Lillard finished 5 of 20 from the field. That's well below his season average of 44.7 percent from the field.
Exum also attacked the basket with confidence in his 25 minutes before leaving the game with a hip contusion. More importantly, Snyder said, Exum is starting to find consistency. And the young guard is starting to make better decisions on the floor, which is leading to more trust from his coach.
Exum didn't speak to the media following Tuesday's game because of the injury.
"He was great for us in this win," Jazz center Rudy Gobert said. "He's been aggressive. Sometimes he gets into foul trouble too early, but we know he's a very good defensive player when he stays on the court. He was important against Damian. I thought he frustrated him a bit, and we all know what Damian can do when he catches fire."
Jeff Withey, who was elevated from the No. 3 center to the backup with Derrick Favors out, played his best game of the season Tuesday night. He scored a season-high 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting and was a factor on both ends.
"When you have the continuity of playing time, presumably it gets a little easier, as long as you don't lose your urgency," Snyder said. "Credit to Jeff. It's hard to not play and not play and then be called upon and give us really important minutes."
Withey is averaging 2.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 8.6 minutes per game this season.
Sending a message
Jazz fan Garrett Jones has created a GoFundMe page to raise money for a billboard that will read "Gordon STAYWARD" in an attempt to help sway Gordon Hayward's decision in his impending free agency this summer.
Jones wrote on his page that he wants the billboard somewhere between Utah's practice facility and Vivint Smart Home Arena.
The page generated $1,030 as of Wednesday morning. Jones said his goal is $5,000.
Hayward figures to be one of the biggest names on the unrestricted free agency market this summer.
Gobert had his third consecutive game with at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots Tuesday night. It ties him with Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns for the longest streak this season. … The Jazz have held an opponent to fewer than 90 points in a game 25 times season, a league high. … Utah and Portland will conclude their season series Saturday in Portland. The Jazz hold a 2-1 advantage.
Timberwolves at Jazz
When • 7 p.m. Friday
Where • Vivint Smart Home Arena
TV • ROOT Sports