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Utah Jazz square off in Los Angeles with a playoff berth on the line

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With a win the Utah Jazz make the playoffs for the second time in a row, the first time in the post-Hayward era.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

With the Los Angeles Lakers shutting down most of their main players because of injury concerns, the Utah Jazz roll into town with a lot riding on a game against a team that is essentially kicking the tires until the season ends. If the Utah Jazz leave Los Angeles with a win today, they clinch a playoff berth for the second time in two years. This would be the first playoff appearance in the post-Hayward era and guarantee Utah the greatest comeback of all-time in NBA history—Utah will have gone from 9 games under .500 on January 22 to at minimum 12 games over .500 by the time the season ends.

The Los Angeles Lakers will be playing for nothing more than pride with a group of players that haven’t played a lot of minutes together or are essentially trying out to be on the Lakers’ summer league squad. Lonzo Ball is still day to day with a knee injury. Isaiah Thomas is out indefinitely with a hip. Kyle Kuzma will be questionable tonight with an ankle. Brandon Ingram is still being held out while in concussion protocol. Brook Lopez will be probable for the game. There is a chance everyone but Thomas plays tonight as the Lakers would love to have a win against a potential playoff team to show in highlights when they try to court big name free agents in the offseason.

Make no mistake about it, tonight is a playoff game even if the Los Angeles Lakers are fielding their G-League squad. Win and the Jazz are in. Lose and the Wild West becomes even murkier with only two games left in the season. Right now the Utah Jazz have a 97.2% chance of making the playoffs. For those that say that’s a gimme, I’d like to remind you that the odds that Utah changes their season on January 22nd to have this turnaround were lower than 2.8%. As Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune likes to say, “John Stockton wasn’t the best pass—” ... hold on ... wrong quote ... here it is ... “The games are played on the court, not on a stat sheet.”

The Utah Jazz could be without Ricky Rubio tonight as he left midway through the first quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers with hamstring soreness. The Utah Jazz will have Raul Neto back in action, but he would be incredibly rusty with all the time off. Utah needs Ricky Rubio tonight more than ever in this big game to provide them depth and his leadership in a crucial playoff clinching game.


Game Info:

When: Sunday, April 8, 2018, 4:00 p.m. MDT

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California

TV: AT&T Sports Net - Rocky Mountain

Radio: 1280 AM/97.5 FM The Zone

Injuries:

Utah Jazz:

Thabo Sefolosha- OUT (Knee)

Ricky Rubio - Day to Day (Hamstring)

Los Angeles Lakers:

Lonzo Ball - Day to Day (Knee)

Brandon Ingram - Day to Day (Concussion protocol)

Isaiah Thomas - OUT (Hip)

Brook Lopez - Probable (Back)

Kyle Kuzma - Day to Day (Ankle

What to watch for

Defensive intensity

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

In Utah’s prior game against the Lakers this week they relied upon their offense to carry them to a victory. That’s a bold move for a defensive team. It’s not a repeatable one. Utah’s lackadaisical defense almost proved to be their downfall as Los Angeles stuck around for the entire game. The Utah Jazz gave up 110 points to the Los Angeles Lakers and surrendered a defensive rating of 112.2 that night. That’s a recipe for disaster on the road against the Los Angeles Lakers in Tinseltown.

In the Utah Jazz’s last five games they’ve had a defensive rating of 101.5. That is still good for 7th best in the league, but it’s not the best Utah can play on that side of the ball. Rubio has also been carrying this team offensively, something that Utah shouldn’t rely on like it’s clockwork. Utah must get back to their defensive ways and bully the Los Angeles Lakers on defense.

Will Ricky Rubio be available for tonight?

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

We joked on our twitter feed about Rubio taking shots last night—he wasn’t—but Rubio’s availability tonight has a big effect on what Utah brings on the defensive end. Rubio is the fuel of Utah’s defensive dreadnaught. He’s not the tip of the spear but he’s the velocity of the weapon. Without Rubio on the floor, the Jazz’s intensity level isn’t as high. Add in Rubio is having an offensive renaissance at the perfect time in the season. Ricky is averaging 21 points, 5 assists, and 4.3 rebounds for the month of April. He hasn’t just been their fuel, he’s been the next arrow in the quiver.

If the Utah Jazz are without Ricky Rubio tonight then the burden of responsibility falls on Dante Exum, Donovan Mitchell, and Joe Ingles. Those three through the aggregate can replace Ricky’s playmaking ability, but they don’t replace his intensity. With Rubio missing much of Thursday night’s action against the Clippers, Utah replaced Ricky’s defensive intensity with Royce O’Neale who was a defensive hound. Offensively they replaced it with Dante Exum and Alec Burks—who would have thought Alec Burks would be saving the Jazz in their hour of need?

Ricky Rubio’s availability tonight determines the degree of difficulty to today’s game.

Most Likely Jazz Killer: Brook Lopez

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Brook Lopez is a bonafide kryptonite-lite to Rudy Gobert. The Utah Jazz can be preyed upon by teams with a bruising stretch 5. While not many exist in the wild, when Utah does face one of them, it hurts. Lopez averages 34.7% from outside. If the Lakers are down Ball, Kuzma, and Ingram, expect Brook Lopez to be chucking from deep. That shot is usually there as Gobert defends the paint. It’ll be up to Utah to make sure Brook Lopez doesn’t derail their playoff clinching plans.