February 12, 2018
By Tony Mejia
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Game of the Night - San Antonio at Utah, Fox Sports Southwest, 9:05 ET
Only two NBA teams have yet to lose in February. It’s easy to guess that the Rockets are one of them and you probably heard that the Warriors lost consecutive games for the first time all season last week, so you know it’s not them. Unless you’ve been on board the gravy train that has been the Jazz of late, they wouldn’t likely be on the tip of your tongue.
With wins in nine straight, covering the spread on eight occasions, Utah has clawed back to .500 with just 26 games remaining. Considering the Jazz host banged-up, struggling Phoenix on Wednesday and will likely be a double-digit favorite, they’ve got a shot at taking an 11-game winning streak into the All-Star break if they take care of business on the second night of a back-to-back against slumping San Antonio for the second time in 10 days.
The Jazz are 10-2 since Rudy Gobert returned from a knee injury and have seen him rack up double-doubles in four of the last five. Rookie Donovan Mitchell opened February with a 40-point game in Phoenix but caught the flu and missed the 120-111 win in San Antonio on Feb. 3.
He hadn’t been the same since coming back, shooting 13-for-39 (33 percent) in wins over the Pelicans, Grizzlies and Hornets, so it’s a great sign that he had his best game since his return in Sunday night’s win in Portland. Mitchell’s 27 points led a 115-96 rout of the Trail Blazers, helping the team rally from a slow start by clinching the game with a 38-19 third-quarter edge.
Utah won despite point guard Ricky Rubio sitting out with a hip injury, offsetting his absence due to a fantastic debut from Jae Crowder, who scored 15 points in his first game since being traded from the Cavs for Rodney Hood. Crowder played 28 minutes, Royce O’Neale started and played 33 and it’s clear that the Jazz are going to continue to play winning basketball regardless of who is playing well on the perimeter so long as Gobert and Derrick Favors are patrolling the paint.
Favors has probably been the steadiest of Utah’s players over the past month. He picked up his fifth double-double since Jan. 17, a 13-game span, with a 15-point, 11-rebound night in Portland. He went for 18 points and 10 boards in a 129-99 win over Golden State that serves as the crown jewel on Utah’s current run and has already played more games than he did last season, making 53 starts and shooting a career-best 54.5 percent from the field.
Although the Jazz are currently on the outside looking in for a playoff spot, entering the week in 10th place, just 1.5 games behind eighth-place New Orleans, they’ve sustained a much better form than the Spurs, who still inhabit the No. 3 spot by one game over Minnesota. The fifth-seeded Thunder are followed by the Trail Blazers, Nuggets, Pelicans, Clippers and Jazz, teams separated by just 2.5 games as the abbreviated week before the All-Star Weekend plays out.
San Antonio got roughed up by the Warriors on Saturday night despite building up a 37-27 first-quarter lead, but are clear about where the team stands at the moment. With Kawhi Leonard being held out until he’s back to 100 percent with his quad injury, Rudy Gay out with a heel and point guards Tony Parker (back) and Dejounte Murray (ankle) sidelined, there is only so much resistance the Spurs can provide against truly elite teams.
All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge has been ruled out for Monday night’s game due to a sore right knee, while Murray and Parker have been upgraded to questionable, which means Pau Gasol, Kyle Anderson, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Patty Mills and Bryn Forbes will be forced to play major roles in order to pull off a road upset. Aldridge scored 31 points in the Feb. 3 loss, so it remains to be seen whether a more balanced offense gets better results. Utah is searching for a third straight win over the Spurs this season, beating them with Kawhi Leonard in the lineup back on Dec. 21 in Salt Lake City.
Rubio, who scored 34 points in the win in San Antonio nine days ago, has been fantastic offensively in shooting 57 percent from the field and averaging 22 points and 9.6 assists over the last five game. After missing Sunday’s game with hip soreness, there’s a good possibility he’ll return.
The Knicks fell to 0-2 since forward Kristaps Porzingis tore his ACL after a 121-113 loss in Indiana on Sunday. Enes Kanter returned from a mouth injury to match Tim Hardaway, Jr. with a team-high 17 points, while Michael Beasley has taken the Latvian star's place in the starting lineup, while rookie Frank Ntilikina and newly acquired Emmanuel Mudiay appear set to get the bulk of the minutes at point guard, taking over for veteran Jarrett Jack as the team builds for the future.
New York has dropped an Eastern Conference-worst six straight games as they visit a 76ers team that is as healthy as they've been all season, missing only No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz, still fighting confidence issues in his return from shoulder injury.
The Clippers may welcome back guard Milos Teodosic from a sore right foot in Brooklyn, but if he doesn't play, are likely to continue starting Austin Rivers. The polarizing guard returned after an absence of nearly six weeks on Friday night against old friend Blake Griffin and Detroit and settled in comfortably. The Nets have already ruled out forward Ronde Hollis-Jefferson (groin) and wing Caris LeVert (knee).
Orlando had its season-best three-game winning streak snapped at home against Milwaukee, but will look to continue getting the most out of an approach by committee after trading away Elfrid Payton to Phoenix. The Magic remain without top players Aaron Gordon (hip flexor) and Nikola Vucevic (hand) as they travel to Chicago, which remains without point guard Kris Dunn, who is still working his way back from concussion after clearing protocol. The Bulls are trying to get his conditioning back up to speed, but are eager to work him back in alongside Zach LaVine so they can finally see how their "backcourt of the future" co-exists. Rookie forward Lauri Markkanen returned from paternity leave over the weekend.
Golden State forward Draymond Green is unlikely to play for the Warriors tonight due to a sprained finger. He's considered doubtful, while Jordan Bell remains out with an ankle issue, so expect David West and Kevon Looney to play larger roles with the Suns in town. Phoenix has cleared Tyson Chandler to return, but guards Devin Booker (hip) and Tyler Ulis (back), who each missed Saturday's 10-point loss to Denver, are considered questionable.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA
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