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The Jazz’s month of being short-handed means everyone is trying to step up, but has had the trickle-down effect of lesser bench production

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Jae Crowder (99) as the Utah Jazz host the Denver Nuggets, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Wednesday Jan. 23, 2019.

It’s been a month now since the Jazz have been anywhere near full-strength.
Dante Exum and Thabo Sefolosha both went down in the Jan. 5 game in Detroit. Ricky Rubio went out in the next game, Jan. 7 in Milwaukee. And Raul Neto went out in the subsequent game, Jan. 9 against Orlando.
Well, Rubio has already made his return to game action, and Neto participated in Tuesday’s practice at Zions Bank Basketball Campus and is now probable to play Wednesday vs. Phoenix. Sefolosha has been ramping up his workouts with assistant coaches in recent days, but is still out at least another week, the team announced Tuesday afternoon.
And while everyone on the team has made it a point to embrace a “next man up” mentality, they’re also not denying that it will be beneficial to the team to finally have its depth back and not force so many players into unfamiliar roles.
“We know our margin for error is not huge,” said Kyle Korver, who has been the Jazz’s top bench scorer in seven of the 15 games in this short-handed stretch. “We have a couple of really talented players, but for the most part we have to play good basketball, we have to play team basketball, we have to be sharp with how we execute. So we just keep talking about that in the locker room. We have a good group of guys, a good, focused group, a coach who doesn’t let us relax for a second. It’s all about habits right now.”
Royce O’Neale started several games in the backcourt while Rubio was out. Jae Crowder has made it a point to try to pick up some of the scoring slack. And Korver has been instrumental in making sure that not too much of the lead slips away when some of the starters give way to the second-unit players in the stretch spanning the late first and early second quarters.
The thing is, though, even if guys willingly embrace the challenge, there’s inevitably a trickle-down effect in production that stems from losing depth.
For the season, Utah is averaging 36.8 bench points per game — good for 16th in the league. During this 15-game period, however, that average has dropped to 32.5 bench points per game, which — extrapolated over an entire season — would rank 26th in the NBA.
HOW’S THE BENCH BEEN?
The Jazz have had a 15-game stretch of being at less than full strength. In that time, the team’s bench scoring has dropped 4.3 ppg from its season average:
Game, Opponent • Bench scoring (Jazz high bench scorer)
Feb. 2, Rockets • Rockets 45, Jazz 34 (O’Neale 10)
Feb. 1, Hawks • Jazz 33, Hawks 30 (Korver 14)
Jan. 30, Blazers • Blazers 42, Jazz 30 (Allen 10)
Jan. 27, Wolves • Jazz 35, Wolves 28 (Crowder 15)
Jan. 25, Wolves • Jazz 33, Wolves 22 (Korver 16)
Jan. 23, Nuggets • Nuggets 46, Jazz 33 (Crowder 15)
Jan. 21, Blazers • Blazers 33, Jazz 28 (Rubio 12)
Jan. 18, Cavaliers • Cavaliers 52, Jazz 35 (Crowder 11)
Jan. 16, Clippers • Clippers 56, Jazz 51 (Crowder 23)
Jan. 14, Pistons • Pistons 31, Jazz 31 (Korver 19)
Jan 12, Bulls • Bulls 37, Jazz 29 (Korver 16)
Jan. 11, Lakers • Lakers 52, Jazz 22 (Korver 9)
Jan. 9, Magic* • Jazz 27, Magic 22 (Korver 11)
Jan. 7, Bucks** • Jazz 39, Bucks 28 (Crowder 12)
Jan. 5, Pistons*** • Jazz 28, Pistons 13 (Korver 8)
Opponents 35.8, Jazz 32.5 (Avg. high bench scorer, 13.4)
*— Neto injured
**—Rubio injured
***—Exum, Sefolosha injured

The Jazz have, on average, seen their bench outscored by 3.3 points per game in that time, which is perhaps not surprising considering they’ve had to rely on production from some young and inexperienced players.
Crowder said he’s taken it upon himself to try to make sure the second unit is good to go.
“I wanted to be a better leader in practice, make sure all the guys who we have available are all on the same page. We had a lot of young guys being able to step up — like Grayson [Allen] got some minutes early when guys were hurt; Georges [Niang] is playing very well for us. Making sure everybody’s on the same page, making sure every guy’s ready to go come game time,” Crowder said. “We have been short-handed a few guys. So, my leadership, I’ve tried to pick up a little bit in practice, through listening to the game plan coach gives us, trying to talk it through with the guys, and execute it as well as possible.”
And players are doing what they can to step up in such situations.
While Korver has been the primary bench scorer over this 15-game segment, the Jazz have also seen Crowder, O’Neale, Allen, even Rubio when he came back, take turns leading the scoring effort outside of the starting lineup.
How it looks going forward is anyone’s guess.
Exum is out at least through the All-Star break, but Sefolosha and Neto are due to be re-evaluated soon. Of course, with the NBA trade deadline coming Thursday, the Jazz may well have some entirely new faces to acclimate, and yet more roles to re-jigger.
In the meantime, center Rudy Gobert is proud of how the team has performed in the meantime.
“Not that having injuries is great, but guys are stepping in and able to have an impact — defensively and offensively; it’s big — every game matters, every game counts,” he said. “When you have injuries, you have to count on the guys who usually don’t get as many minutes. It’s been big for us.”
JAZZ VS. SUNS
At Vivint Smart Home Arena

Tipoff • Wednesday, 7 p.m.
TV • AT&T SportsNet
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 30-24, Suns 11-44
Last meeting • Jazz, 116-88 (March 15, 2018)
About the Jazz • Utah has been off since Saturday, when it fell by 27 points to the Rockets for its second loss in its last three games. … This is the first of four matchups between the teams this season. … Donovan Mitchell totaled a team-high 26 points and nine assists in the loss to the Rockets on Saturday.
About the Suns • Phoenix’s .200 winning percentage for the season is the worst in the Western Conference. … Head coach Igor Kokoskov spent the previous three seasons as a Utah Jazz assistant. … Guard Devin Booker is leading the team with 24.9 ppg and 6.7 apg, while No. 1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton is averaging 16.3 ppg and 10.6 rpg.
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