Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:05 AM

Thursday's Essentials

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Game of the Night - Utah at Dallas, Fox Sports Southwest, 8:35 ET

The schedule makers did a nice job if they wanted to make sure to give the NCAA Tournament little competition as the Sweet 16 tips off on Thursday night. There won’t be a meeting between playoff contenders despite the fact we’ve still got over 60 percent of the league alive.

The team in the most interesting situation, the one you can probably learn most about on a night where we won’t be able to digest much due to the matchups, is Utah. Coming off a shocking loss to Atlanta (+900) as a 14-point favorite, the Jazz will get a chance to bounce back from a defeat for the first time since opening the month with a win over Minnesota after closing out February with a home loss to the Rockets.

Eight more wins followed, and when you consider that Utah hasn’t lost on the road since Jan. 22 – against the Hawks – it’s time to start wondering whether this latest upset loss against the last-place team in the Eastern Conference will be the beginning of the end or just another blip in between another major surge.

Since Jan. 20, the Jazz are 22-2 against teams not coached by Mike Budenholzer and 11-0 in opposing gyms not located in Atlanta. They’ve gone from a playoff afterthought in the loaded West to emerging as a legitimate threat to finish as a top-four seed in the conference.

Only four games behind Northwest Division-leading Portland, Utah enters Thursday night’s contest in Dallas as the No. 8 seed, 1.5 games up on the Nuggets and two on the Clippers. Their three-game road trip will continue at the Spurs on Friday and the Warriors on Sunday, so it’s imperative they bounce back from the letdown against Dennis Schroder and the Hawks immediately since they want no part of heading to San Antonio on a losing streak.

Even though the Mavs are expected to be down starting guards Dennis Smith Jr. (ankle) and Wesley Matthews (leg), there can be no inclination about saving energy for the Spurs showdown. That makes Utah attractive as eight-point road favorites, although Dallas has won two of its last three at AmericanAirlines Center and will be playing at home for the first time since March 11 after being away on a four-game road swing.

"Are we going to sit around and cry about losing to the Atlanta Hawks?" Utah center Rudy Gobert told the Salt Lake Tribune. "Or are we going to move on? We have to stay focused. We have to stay confident and stay hungry. We have to keep trusting each other. But we gotta know right now that we can beat anyone or lose to anyone.''

The Mavs have lost three straight games, surrendering an average of 117 points in falling at Toronto, Brooklyn and New Orleans.

They lost both meetings in Salt Lake City, averaging 89.5 points in setbacks held in late October and on Feb. 24. The Jazz got off to a 33-18 lead in the most recent meeting, but Dallas managed to match Utah on the boards and did some damage thanks to J.J. Barea finishing with 17 points and 12 assists. Utah rallied after the early deficit, pulling within 93-90 before surrendering the final four points.

NBA Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner Rudy Gobert has averaged 15 points, 11 boards and three blocks in the two wins against the Mavs, while Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell has added 16.5 points against them and won’t have to deal with the athletic Smith tonight. With Ben Simmons thriving in Philadelphia and the race for the top rookie currently too close to call, Mitchell has to continue his excellent run if he wants to win over voters over the final few weeks.

He shot a brutal 9-for-28 and went 1-for-10 from 3-point range in the loss to Atlanta, so he can certainly be labeled the primary culprit for the upset loss, but there were other reasons that shouldn’t linger on to this road trip. Joe Ingles missed a potential game-tying shot in the corner coming out of a timeout that he’s seemingly made all season. He went 1-for-8 from beyond the arc. The Jazz finished 6-for-34.

Aberration? Almost certainly.

Derrick Favors’ absence was glaring since Utah was outrebounded 52-51 and Ekpe Udoh had to play 13 scoreless minutes off the bench. He’s expected to return after sitting out the Hawks loss due to knee soreness, presumably so he’d be fresher for this key trip.

There are only five home games left in Dirk Nowitzki's 20th season at home, so you can count on the Mavs bringing the intensity. This will be a good measuring stick to see what direction Utah is headed. The under has gone 11-3 over the Jazz's last 14 contests.

Injury Report

The 76ers crushed Memphis within three quarters, so head coach Brett Brown was able to rest starters and should have everyone available for the second night of a back-to-back in Orlando. Wing Jonathon Simmons and rookie forward Jonathan Isaac are unlikely to suit up for the Magic, who did get Aaron Gordon back from concussion protocol on Tuesday night. Shooting guard Evan Fournier is sidelined with a knee injury.

The Grizzlies ruled out Marc Gasol for the second of their back-to-back situation, but should have Tyreke Evans in the mix after he sat in Philadelphia. Memphis' trip contenues in Charlotte, who were without Nicolas Batum (achilles) and Cody Zeller (knee) in Wednesday night's comeback win over the Nets. Dwight Howard put together a 32-point, 30-rebound night, the first 30-30 game in nearly eight years, setting a new Hornets franchise record for boards in the process.

New Orleans point guard Jrue Holiday (illness) returned to the fold for the Pels to help contribute to Wednesday night's win over Indiana. The Lakers were already in town while New Orleans had to play its rescheduled game, but they'll remain without second-year standout Brandon Ingram due to a hip injury.

Chris Paul (hamstring) is probably going to be a game-time decision after tweaking a previous injury late in Wednesday's win over Portland, stretching to grab a crucial loose ball offensive rebound that helped wrap up the win in Portland. Paul made a pair of free throws to clinch the victory and even did a postgame interview saying winning heals all and he'd be fine, but it remains to be seen whether he's a part of this one.

The Pistons got Reggie Jackson back for his first action in three months, immediately inserting him in the starting lineup in a 115-88 win in Phoenix. Stanley Jackson and Reggie Bullock should also be good to go after working through back issues.

Atlanta continues its Western swing and searching for consecutive wins for the first time since the start of February as it takes the court in Sacramento. Rookie forward Joshn Collins and backup point guard Malcolm Delaney remain questionable with ankle injuries.

The Kings won't have Garrett Temple available due to a knee injury, but have upgraded rookie shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic to probable after a hamstring issue. Zach Randolph, dealing with gastroenteritis, is listed as questionable.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA

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