San Antonio • The Jazz will return home hobbled. More beaten up than they’ve been at any point this season. Possibly down to 10 active players, two of whom are rookies, four of whom are 22 or younger. Needing every ounce of strength and willpower that’s kept them fighting thus far.
Utah lost two key athletes Sunday during a 114-104 defeat to the Spurs, and the Jazz’s playoff hopes took another hit.
Starting shooting guard C.J. Miles (strained left calf) and backup point guard Earl Watson (sore right knee) left the game during the second quarter and didn’t return. Miles wore a protective boot afterward, Watson was on crutches, and both will undergo MRI exams Monday.
“I can’t even walk,” said Watson, who initially was placed in a wheelchair.
Meanwhile, a Jazz (29-28) team that’s dropped six of nine fell back into 10th place in the Western Conference. Utah’s a half-game behind ninth-place Phoenix — which holds a tiebreaker — and 11/2 games behind eighth-place Denver with just nine contests left in the 2011-12 season.
With starters Josh Howard and Raja Bell already out of action, the Jazz exited the AT&T Center knowing their options are increasingly becoming limited.
Utah’s proved multiple times this season it shouldn’t be counted out, and the Jazz’s depth has been one of their biggest strengths. But due to the oddity of the lockout-compressed schedule, Utah will host a deeper, more rested San Antonio (40-14) team Monday at EnergySolutions Arena.
The Spurs have won 11 consecutive contests, they destroyed the Jazz during the first half Sunday — shooting 60.6 percent from the field and holding a 57-38 lead with 28.9 seconds to go — and San Antonio didn’t play starting center DeJuan Blair or reserve guard Stephen Jackson during round one.
Drawing even against the Spurs on back-to-back nights was a challenge before Utah tipped off Monday. Doing it with possibly just 10 active players only increases the stakes.
“We just have to pick it up. … We’re just going to have to go with what we have,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “Our guys have been tremendous responding all year, and we expect that to continue.”
Sunday, Utah had to dig to the bottom of its well just to claw back from a 19-point deficit.
Little-used reserve small forward DeMarre Carroll showed why Utah general manager Kevin O’Connor signed him in early February. After not playing during the first half, an energized Carroll leapt off the bench to pour in a career-high 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting — including 3-for-4 behind the 3-point line — helping the Jazz pull within 108-100 with 2 minutes and 14 seconds to go.
But speedy Spurs point guard Tony Parker was simply too much. He continually destroyed Utah in the pick-and-roll, burned Utah starting point guard Devin Harris with body fakes during crucial moments, and finished with a game-high 28 points — including 10-for-10 from the foul line — as San Antonio closed the contest like the best team record-wise in the West should.
“Tony kind of decided he wasn’t going to let them come back and he did what he did,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “That’s pretty awesome there.”
Add in 14-of-15 shooting from the line by Manu Ginobili, San Antonio’s 50.7 percent shooting from the field and 45-39 edge on the boards, and everyone from Tim Duncan (game-high 16 rebounds) to Danny Green and Tiago Splitter leaving a mark, and Utah’s ego and bodies were bruised after the battle.
“It’s hard. Playing against a team like that, a veteran team, you’ve got to give yourself a chance to win once the tip start,” Jazz reserve point guard Jamaal Tinsley said. “You can’t play in spurts with a good team like that. … We’ve just got to give ourselves a chance by playing the whole 48 minutes and down the stretch.”
Minutes after Miles and Watson hobbled away, Jazz center Al Jefferson quietly sat in front of his locker. After spending nearly two minutes discussing everything from his team’s slow start — Utah allowed 30-plus points in the first quarter for the fifth time in six games — to his belief the resilient Jazz will rally Monday in front of their home crowd, Jefferson gave a cool two-word answer when asked whether San Antonio’s one of the best and deepest teams Utah’s played this season.
“Um, yeah,” he said.
Storylines Spurs 114, Jazz 104
R In short • The Jazz fall behind by 19 before losing.
Key stat • Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combine to shoot 24-for-25 from the line.
Key moment • After Utah pulls within 108-100, Parker scores two quick layups.
Spurs vs. Jazz
P At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • 7 p.m., Monday
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM
Records • Spurs 40-14, Jazz 29-28
Last meeting • Spurs, 114-104 (Sunday)
About the Spurs • San Antonio’s 3-0 against Utah this season. … The Spurs have the second-best record in the NBA, trailing only Chicago. … San Antonio’s 11-game winning streak is its second this season.
About the Jazz • Utah’s C.J. Miles and Earl Watson will undergo MRIs Monday. … Seldom-used forward Jeremy Evans played a scoreless 5:49 against the Spurs on Sunday. … The Jazz shot just 16 of 26 from the free-throw line against San Antonio, while the Spurs took 17 more fouls shots.