The Utah Jazz established command early against the Phoenix Suns on Friday night, let the lead slip in the third quarter and held on at the end to win 112-101.
But no one with the Jazz or the team’s fan base cared about the final score after what happened to Dante Exum.
The fourth-year point guard drove to the basket late in the first quarter, collided with Suns forward TJ Warren and crashed to the floor. Exum rolled around in obvious pain, rose to his feet and sprinted to the locker room with what looked like a dislocated shoulder.
The Jazz officially labeled it a left shoulder injury and Exum didn’t return to the game. He was undergoing an MRI on Friday night to determine the exent of the injury, and Utah coach Quin Snyder didn’t sound optimistic.
“I don’t want to speculate,” Snyder said. “But if you saw the shoulder, it didn’t look good.”
Exum, even in the short sample size of the preseason, looked like the game was finally slowing down for him. Through three preseason games, he’s looked dynamic on both sides of the floor and more like the player the Jazz thought he would be when they took him with the fifth pick of the 2014 NBA draft.
Teammates afterward said they feel empathy for Exum, who’s already suffered one major injury in his career with a torn ACL the summer after his rookie season. He worked hard during this past offseason to improve, and was in line for heavy rotation minutes off the bench in reserve of Ricky Rubio.
“I feel bad for him,” Jazz forward Derrick Favors said. “He’s a guy who has been working hard all summer. He’s probably been one of the best guys in training camp.”
If Exum is forced to miss major time, the Jazz will have to adjust their rotation. The immediate benefactor would appear to be shooting guard Alec Burks, who scored a game-high 19 points against Phoenix on Friday. Raul Neto would probably see an increased role as well.
The question would be whether rookie Donovan Mitchell is able to slide over and play some minutes at point guard whenever Ricky Rubio goes to the bench. That would allow Snyder to play Burks more at the shooting guard spot, where he has been dynamic in the preseason.
“It was a scary moment, to be honest,” Mitchell said. “My thoughts are definitely with him. He’s definitely upset. He wanted to be out there because he’s working so hard. But he’s always positive.”
The Jazz put six players in double-figures, with Rodney Hood scoring 19 to go along with Burks. Favors and Joel Bolomboy scored 12 points, while Joe Johnson and Ricky Rubio scored 11 each.
The Suns were led by Troy Daniels and Alex Len, who scored 18 points.
The Jazz and the Suns play again on Monday in Phoenix.