Utah’s lone defeat in its past 10 games came just over a week ago against the Portland Trail Blazers. Which makes Wednesday’s rematch in Portland compelling for a few reasons — retribution for the loss, the ability to claim the season series against a top-four team in the West, extending their three-game winning streak to a four-game winning streak.
It was hoped it might be intriguing for another — the potential return of yet more injured players.
No dice. This stretch of success has come with the Jazz short-handed, and that’s not going to change in the immediate future.
While Ricky Rubio has already made his return from a hamstring injury and Dante Exum, who has been out with a sprained ankle, was doing individual drills at Zions Bank Basketball Campus on Tuesday afternoon before the team flew to Portland, the team is still not close to being full strength.
Exum, forward Thabo Sefolosha (hamstring strain) and point guard Raul Neto (groin strain) were all re-evaluated Tuesday, and all subsequently ruled out for the Blazers game and beyond. While Sefolosha and Neto will be out at least another week, Exum is out until at least the All-Star break, the Jazz announced Tuesday night.
During Tuesday’s practice, coach Quin Snyder highlighted the impact of the roster’s healthy contingent stepping into unfamiliar roles to help tide the team over.
“Guys have to do some different things — in some cases, have to do more, in some cases have to do less, maybe, than what they were doing previously. That’s what team is about,” Snyder said. “… It impacts rotations, sometimes it impacts who starts, it impacts who finishes. The key thing for our groups that they’ve kept their focus on the things that they can control.”
Reserve forward Kyle Korver concurred.
He added that while it’s always unfortunate to lose a teammate to injury, it’s inevitable to some degree, and the key is how the rest of the roster responds.
Those injuries should be treated, he said, as opportunities to grow and evolve.
“Over the course of a season, certain guys go down, but they get some rest. Certain other guys step up, they get a little more experience. You kind of makeshift some lineups,” Korver said. “Donovan [Mitchell]’s had to play a lot of point guard for us, and I think it’s been a really good thing for him — he’s had to really see the floor, control the team, and not just score. And that’s helped his development. The goal is to be at our best in April and May, hopefully in June, and these little steps throughout the season where guys are hurt, guys are in and out of lineups, guys are making things happen, if you do it the right way, it makes you better in the end.”
That, Snyder reiterated, is what’s most important: Regardless of who’s in the lineup or who’s on the shelf, are the players who are playing making progress?
“Nothing’s changed. I don’t care if we’ve won 20 in a row or two in a row or lost three in a row — we need to keep trying to get better. That’s what we’re trying to do right now,” Snyder said. “Hopefully we get the results that we want, but at any given time, if we don’t — the last time we played Portland, I don’t think we played the way we did the first two times; we need to learn from that and keep getting better.”
Still, guard Royce O’Neale noted that once the Jazz’s depth at long last reverts to full strength, it can only help the team.
“Those guys have been out for awhile; we know they’re [eager] to come back, but they’re not rushing it,” he said. “When they come back, we’ll get acclimated, make adjustments and everybody’s gonna keep playing the way we’ve been playing, just try to keep this thing going.”
JAZZ AT TRAIL BLAZERS
At Moda Center, Portland, Ore.
Tipoff • Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. MT
TV • ESPN, AT&T SportsNet
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 29-22; Blazers 31-20
Last meeting • Blazers 109-104 (Jan. 21)
About the Jazz • Utah has won three straight games and nine of its last 10, with its only loss in that stretch at the hands of Portland. … The Jazz are coming off back-to-back wins against the Timberwolves. … Guard Donovan Mitchell has scored 24 or more points in 12 consecutive games.
About the Blazers • Damian Lillard led Portland in points (26), rebounds (eight), and assists (eight) in the teams’ prior matchup. … The Blazers have won two in a row, but haven’t played since Saturday, when they defeated the Hawks 120-111. … Reserve guard Seth Curry has been named a participant in this year’s All-Star Weekend 3-Point Shootout.