Philadelphia • The Utah Jazz weren’t planning on this.
Like any other NBA team, the Jazz knew an 82-game season would produce a few scrapes and bruises. But they couldn’t predict anything close to what is actually transpiring.
As the Jazz head into Monday night’s matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers, they will be missing their best player in Rudy Gobert, their primary backup point guard in Dante Exum and their best bench scorer in Joe Johnson. In Friday’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets, Ricky Rubio and Thabo Sefolosha joined the other three on the injured list before coming back Saturday in a win over the Orlando Magic.
With a new training staff, it wasn’t supposed to be like this for the Jazz.
“We’re just trying to do whatever we can at the moment to try and get some wins,” Jazz small forward Joe Ingles said. “We can’t be in the mindset of just waiting until the guys get back. We still have some very good players, so we have to stick to what we’re doing and turn it around.”
Utah played its best all-around game in Saturday’s win over the Magic, putting up 125 points and locking Orlando down defensively. But there’s still no denying the Jazz and coach Quin Snyder have had to be creative with lineups over the past week.
On Friday, Donovan Mitchell started at point guard. Royce O’Neale played 21 minutes and Alec Burks played almost 30 minutes. If you had asked Snyder or general manager Dennis Lindsey over the summer if they foresaw any of the three happening in November, they’d both tell you no.
At the same time, this has been the Jazz for the past three seasons. They’ve consistently been one of the most injured teams in the league and have consistently had to make due without important players.
Two years ago, it was Exum for the entire season, and Derrick Favors and Gobert for large chunks. Last season it was Favors, George Hill and Rodney Hood for significant time. Now, the Jazz are missing one of the best defensive players in the league, along with valuable scoring in Johnson and backcourt athleticism and defense in Exum.
All while trying to acclimate to life without Gordon Hayward, who joined the Boston Celtics as a free agent.
“The silver lining is that with guys out, guys have an opportunity to play and an opportunity to get better,” Snyder said.
That’s true. Raul Neto has been Utah’s best point guard in the last two games. He scored a career-high 22 points in the loss to Brooklyn and was even better than that in the win over Orlando, as the Jazz outscored the Magic by 44 points when he was on the floor.
Favors has scored at least 20 points and grabbed at least 10 rebounds in two of his last five games. The growth in Mitchell’s game is evident. He had eight assists and seven rebounds against the Nets and has been steadily looking to make plays for himself and others when he drives the lane. And Hood seems to be blossoming in his new sixth man role. He scored a season-high 31 points against the Magic and had 30 points in Wednesday’s loss to the New York Knicks.
Still, nothing will replace the defensive presence Gobert offers. And with all the injuries, the Jazz have had to learn how to play without guys they need. That’s led to losses, inconsistent play, and a frustrated locker room.
Saturday night’s win over Orlando offered a nice respite to that. The Jazz were indeed a happy bunch. But, it isn’t getting any easier. The Sixers feature Ben Simmons, the best rookie in the league, and Joel Embiid, one of the best centers in the league. And the Wells Fargo Center has become a difficult place to win.
The good news is Utah’s offense seems to be finding a rhythm. The ball movement on Saturday night was the best it’s been all season. The Jazz have scored at least 100 points in four of their last five games and the experiment with Mitchell in the starting lineup and Hood coming off the bench is working very well.
But the Jazz are still just 7-10 on the season and have still lost seven of their last nine games. They know they need to start stringing wins together before the schedule turns brutal in December.
“This is all we’ve dealt with since I’ve been here, adversity,” Hood said. “We always seem to come through. I know it hurts right now, but we’re going to be fine. We’re going to get back on track and we’re going to start winning some games. Obviously, we have a lot of guys out. But we’re going to keep fighting.”
Rudy Gobert - Suffered a bone contusion in his right leg when DionWaiters dived into his knee, fighting for a loose ball. He will be outuntil at least mid-December
Dante Exum - Separated his shoulder in a preseason game against thePhoenix Suns and had surgery a few weeks later. He is out indefinitely,if not the entire season
Joe Johnson - Has missed two weeks with tendon instability in his right wrist. He will be re-evaluated in two weeks
Ricky Rubio - Missed a game with achilles soreness. He came back on Saturday night, but was on a minutes restriction
Thabo Sefolosha - Missed a game with a sore right knee. He came back on Saturday night
Utah Jazz at Philadelphia 76ers
When - Monday, 5 p.m. MDT
Where - Wells Fargo Arena, Philadelphia
TV - AT&T SportsNet
Radio - 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records - Utah 7-10; Philadelphia 8-7
Last Meeting - Philadelphia 104-97 (Nov. 7)
About the Jazz - Utah broke a three-game losing streak with Saturdaynight’s win over the Orlando Magic. … The Jazz will wrap up a four game-road trip Monday. … Utah has scored at least100 points in four of its last five games. … The Jazz will be trying toavenge a home loss to the Sixers. …. Rodney Hood has scored at least 30points in two of his last three games
About the Sixers - Top draft pick Markelle Fultz is expected to miss two to threemore weeks with a shoulder injury. … The Sixers are 2-3 this season ontheir home floor. … Guard Jarryd Bayless, who has been out with injury,is expected to play against the Jazz. … Joel Embiid leads the Sixers,scoring 22.8 points per game. … Philadelphia has lost three of itslast four games