Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) brings the ball up court during a game. The Jazz have lost four in a row.
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SALT LAKE CITY — The Jazz got some good news Monday night.
Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert, and Danuel House Jr. were all listed as questionable, and Donovan Mitchell wasn’t even on the injury report for Tuesday’s game in Los Angeles.
Yep, we’ve reached the point of the season where questionable is considered something to celebrate. Things have been bad—scratch that, they are bad—for the Jazz. A four-game losing streak has led to sour comments and postgame remarks that can easily be viewed as veiled shots to other players.
Rudy Gay mentioning Gobert’s salary after a game Gobert sat out with a calf contusion (or a bruise)? That was strange.
And that was only after Mitchell said he was “really happy with the guys that suited up.” Was that also a low-key dig at Gobert?
Then there was Gobert’s comment last week about some NBA players having different individual motivations other than winning. Was that a reference to his teammates or one teammate in particular?
These are the questions that come up when losses pile up. Every word is analyzed, every comment is seen more pointed than it might actually be. To state the obvious, things aren’t great with the Jazz. They are tired, they are frustrated, and they don’t seem to have any answers. Well, except for hoping that health solves things.
If there’s one thing to hold onto as Utah continues its downward trend it’s that the team, even with all the negativity swirling around it, stll has good numbers when healthy. The optimistic viewpoint: Even with all the apparent backbiting, health might just be all they need.
Utah’s preferred starting lineup of Mitchell, Gobert, Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale and Mike Conley has been one of the best starting units in the league. That group has a 9.1 net rating in over 600 minutes played together this season.
That’s led to a 27-11 record when all five of players are available, which equate to a 58-game winning pace — also known as really, really good. If everyone is available, the Jazz, at least, have the look of a contender. When they don’t, they hardly look like a playoff team.
Here’s the Jazz records in games without their top players:
- Without Bogdanovic: 3-8
- Without Gobert: 7-9
- Without Mitchell: 6-7
- Without Conley: 4-5
There is some overlap there, but it’s pretty clear that if the Jazz don’t have everyone, they are a sub-.500 team.
That’s not a great sign of resilience. But after nearly a full season of seeing big leads turn to losses, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. This is who the Jazz are at this point. All the scars of seasons past haven’t fortified the group as much as made them fragile.
“We’ve just got to win — I got nothing else to say,” Mitchell said last week. “We’ve just got to do it. We’ve got to figure out how to do it. If we want home court, if we want the advantage we’ve worked all season for, we gotta go our and do it.. . by any means necessary.”
Mitchell said that two losses ago; they didn’t do it. And now the Jazz are in an unexpected position: It’s not just home court they are fighting for; it’s the playoffs themselves. Utah is suddenly in danger of falling to the play-in tournament. The Jazz sit just two and a half games above Minnesota and the all-important seventh seed.
The Timberwolves finish the season with games against the Toronto Raptors, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Washington Wizards, San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls. If they win out (unlikely, but possible), the Jazz can only afford to lose three more games in order to stay ahead of the Wolves.
Utah holds the tiebreaker with Minnesota and Denver (which is half game behind Utah), so it would just need to finish tied with either of them to avoid falling into the play-in games. But with games against the Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, and Memphis Grizzlies remaining (not to mention a Lakers squad Utah has struggled to beat), it’s not hard to find four — or more — losses.
Especially if questionable in the injury report doesn’t end up equaling available.
“I’d like to see us get to a point where we actually have what I foresee in my mind as a potential playoff rotation,” coach Quin Snyder said. “We’re not there right now. I don’t know that we’ve had that. It’s a really unique year in that sense.”
Snyder even admitted that might not happen before the playoffs begin — if it ever happens.
“I want to be the best version of who we can be. … Hopefully you get that before the playoffs started, but the playoffs themselves I thin have a way of bringing things out in teams,” he said. “So I don’t want to be pessimistic about that. It’s not optimal. But it doesn’t mean that we can’t continue to kind of find who we are, so to speak.”
With seven games left, the Jazz are still finding who they are. That’s anything but good news.
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