Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:04 AM

Sunday's Essentials

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Game of the Night - Utah at L.A. Lakers, AT&T SportsNet, 6:05 ET

The Jazz probably entered Saturday with expectations that they would have additional breathing room in their bid to make the playoffs. If the Pelicans and Spurs had each lost, they would’ve clinched a second consecutive postseason appearance on the heels of watching their franchise player walk away via free agency.

Instead, four of the five teams currently behind Utah entering the final few games of the regular season picked up victories. Oklahoma City and New Orleans pulled off road upsets the league’s top teams to notch their 46th win. San Antonio used a big fourth quarter to hold off No. 3 Portland. Denver eliminated the Clippers but tightened things up by matching idle Minnesota at 45-35.

The Jazz can still miss the playoffs, but the Trail Blazers losing to the Spurs kept the possibility of finishing as high as third and winning the Northwest alive. They’ll need help from Denver on Monday night but would control their own destiny on the road in Portland on Wednesday if they get that result and take care of business tonight and at home against Golden State on Tuesday.

It won't be easy, but entering Game 80 with a shot at a division title is a deal Coach of the Year candidate Quin Snyder and his staff would've gladly signed up for when the season began.

Utah is searching for its fifth straight win and will be looking to defeat the Lakers for the second time this week, having registered a 117-110 home victory on Tuesday. Ricky Rubio led the Jazz with 31 points on 10-for-15 shooting in addition to six boards and eight assists, so it wouldn’t be ideal if he’s unable to take part in this rematch. A hamstring issue that the Jazz know they have to be cautious with has put the Spanish guard’s availability in jeopardy for this one.

Soreness developed in Thursday’s 117-95 rout of the Clippers, forcing him to leave after just eight minutes. The Jazz are hoping that this injury won’t derail his momentum since he’s been dominant in April’s wins, shooting 63 percent from the field, including 10-for-15 from 3-point range. The Jazz are expected to determine his availability after shootaround.

Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma, a University of Utah product, scored 26 points but is considered doubtful to play due to a sprained ankle. With Brandon Ingram out with a concussion and Lonzo Ball unlikely to play again this season due to knee soreness, the Lakers will likely depend on Julius Randle as the catalyst in this one. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shot 5-for-9 from 3-point range and finished with 28 points for the Lakers in Salt Lake City, so he’ll also play a large role here.

Rookie Alex Caruso is starting at point guard for L.A., but Tyler Ennis has played better of late and should get more minutes. Josh Hart and Brook Lopez would likely get more looks if Kuzma can’t go.

Donovan Mitchell scored 26 points and is putting the finishing touches on his Rookie of the Year campaign, which would obviously be enhanced if he can add leading the Jazz to a division title on the resume in Game 82. He had a 10-game run of scoring 20 or more points snapped when he finished with 19 against the Clippers, shooting just 6-for-15.

Rudy Gobert scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Thursday’s win over the Clippers that saw Dante Exum and Alec Burks rise up to combine with forward Jonas Jerebko for 36 points off the bench to provide a boost after Rubio’s early exit. Jae Crowder played fewer than five minutes due to a head injury but has been cleared to participate and should be back in a reserve role.

Utah is looking to sweep the Lakers for the second consecutive series and own a streak of six straight victories over L.A. The Jazz have won 10 of 11 in the series.

The over is 7-1 over Utah’s last seven. The Jazz surrendered 110 points in Tuesday’s home win against the Lakers but have only given up fewer than 100 in the five games surrounding that one. They lead the Western Conference in defensive efficiency, ranking only behind Boston and Philadelphia.

Injury report

Dallas is in Philly to battle the 76ers and has yet to make a decision on the availability of rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr., power forward Dwight Powell and small forward Doug McDermott, but are committed to seeing guys they haven't gotten a long look at yet. That means two-way players Johnathan Motley and Jalen Jones will join point guard Kyle Collinsworth and Aaron Harrison on the floor in crunch time. Dirk Nowitzki and J.J. Barea have seen their last action this season.

The Pacers close with a home-and-home against the Hornets, who have opted to try and finish strong despite being eliminated. As a result, the odds have this as basically a pick'em as we await word on whether Nate McMillan will rest any of his Pacers or continue chasing an unlikely Central Division title.

Boston should get Jayson Tatum back in the lineup against the Hawks after giving him the night off against Chicago on Friday but will again give Marcus Morris the night off. Guards Dennis Schroder and Malcolm Delaney should miss another game, but that hasn't stopped Atlanta from being competitive with Isaiah Taylor and Damion Lee filling in. The Hawks have covered in three of four.

Marc Gasol will likely be rested as the Grizzlies strap on their tank gear for another home date against Detroit. JaMychal Green and Andrew Harrison are also expected to join Tyreke Evans, Chandler Parsons, Jarell Martin and Wayne Selden in suits on the bench. Marshon Brooks, Dillon Brooks and Ivan Rabb are getting long looks with the depleted Grizzlies.

Orlando will welcome back Terrence Ross for his first action since November, so the fact he's making his return in Toronto where he should receive a nice ovation provides a nice touch. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Frank Vogel wants to get him back in the mix since he felt it helped to get Paul George work back when he was returning from a broken leg in his Indy days. Although the Magic are tanking as well, Aaron Gordon (calf) and Nikola Vucevic (back) are also returning to challenge the Raptors.

Toronto has held its last two opponents in the 70s and will be playing its home regular-season finale having already wrapped up the Eastern Conference's top seed.

Tonight's finale sees Phoenix playing Golden State for the second straight Sunday night, hosting this time. Devin Booker and T.J. Warren will again be absent in addition to Tyson Chandler, Elfrid Payton and Alan Williams. Impressive rookie wing Josh Jackson, forward Marquese Chriss and shooter Troy Daniels are all questionable with nagging injuries. The Suns are in pole position to earn the No. 1 pick in the talent-filled '18 NBA Draft, having amassed the league's worst record through 80 games. They should lose No. 61 here given their depleted state, but we'll see what Steve Kerr does with his personnel coming off a home loss to New Orleans on Saturday night. Andre Iguodala has already been ruled out.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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