Houston • Midway through Utah’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night, Rodney Hood let out a slight chuckle when he looked at the guys wearing Jazz uniforms.
He recognized them as his teammates, that much is obvious. But he was on the floor with teammates who he hadn’t been on the floor with much this season. And teammates who were playing different positions for the first time this season.
“It was weird, I admit,” Hood said. “It was tough, but we made it work. I think a lot of guys have been able to pitch in and step up.”
For Hood and the Jazz, it goes to show how creative coach Quin Snyder has had to become with his lineups, as the Jazz have been one of the most injury-ridden teams in the league for a third consecutive season.
As Utah’s six-game road stretch continues in Houston on Monday night with a matchup against the league-leading Rockets, the Jazz’s situation is different, and unique, and challenging.
There’s no Rudy Gobert, as the all-NBA big man is sidelined with a significant knee sprain for the second time this season. He was injured in Friday night’s win over the Boston Celtics, and is out for at least two weeks.
Utah Jazz at Houston Rockets
When - Monday, 6 p.m.MST
Where - Toyota Center, Houston
TV - AT&TSportsNet
Radio - 97.5 FM, 1280 AM
Records - Utah14-16; Houston 24-4
Last Meeting - Houston 112-101, Dec.8
About the Jazz • Utah has lost five of its last six games. …The Jazz are on the fourth of a six-game road stretch. … Utah’s 0-2against the Rockets this season. … Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (18.1points per game) leads all NBA rookies in scoring.
About theRockets • Houston is 14-0 this season with point guard Chris Paul in thelineup. … The Rockets are on a 13-game winning streak, with 10 comingby double-digits. … Houston will be playing its fourth game in sixnights. … James Harden leads the NBA in scoring and is second inassists.
And now, there’s no Derrick Favors, who took an elbow from Boston forward Jaylen Brown and received six stitches above his left eye. He tried to play Saturday night, but complained of a headache while warming up and was diagnosed with a concussion.
The Jazz have had injury issues with their big man duo in the past, just not at the same time. So, on Saturday night, Jonas Jerebko and Joe Johnson each played minutes at center. Part of this concerned matchups: Cleveland typically downsizes, especially with its second unit.
But beyond Ekpe Udoh, who blocked six shots against the Cavaliers, the Jazz simply don’t have many healthy big men remaining. Utah recalled rookie Tony Bradley, but he doesn’t have the experience just yet to be a rotation guy. Jerebko was Snyder’s best center option off the bench.
“We had to adapt to having a next-man-up mentality,” Johnson said. “We had to go with what we had. Whatever lineup coach threw out there, it’s on us to go out there and play hard.”
What it means is this: For the second time this season, the Jazz are going to have to play a completely different style of basketball, which can be traumatic for any NBA team. With Favors and Gobert, Utah plays slow and deliberate offensively. Defensively, the Jazz funnel opposing ballhandlers into the waiting arms of their shot blockers.
When Gobert missed 11 games previously, the Jazz played at a faster pace. They played smaller lineups and took more perimeter shots, taking advantage of more space.
For two weeks, Utah’s been trying to get used to having Gobert back in the lineup. And now, the Jazz have to go back to another style. In a year when big change has come to the roster, the Jazz are having to adjust on the fly during the season.
That’s not easy.
“It’s definitely different for all of us, but it is what it is,” Jerebko said. “This is what happens when you’re short-handed. You have to do what’s needed. We’re not used to it, but we have to go out there and make the best of the situation.”
For the first time this season, the Jazz have a healthy wing rotation, so that helps. That allowed Snyder to get a bit creative. Royce O’Neale — who didn’t play against the Celtics — scored a career-high 12 points. Thabo Sefolosha provided a lift, as did Johnson and Jerebko.
But the Jazz are going to be a small team in the short term. And that will hurt on Monday night against Houston, as Clint Capela has established himself as one of the best centers in the league. Wednesday night brings Oklahoma City and Steven Adams. Thursday brings San Antonio and the duo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. OKC visits Vivint Smart Home Arena on Saturday. So, the Jazz are going to face a number of teams where they will be at a size disadvantage, if Favors can’t shake his concussion in the next few days.
“I think we made a few mistakes, but it’s just because guys haven’t played together as much. But we have a lot of focus and commitment, so we’re going to be fine.”