The Utah Jazz are currently in the depths of a four-game losing streak, the longest losing stretch since a five-game lapse in January/February of 2020.
These last four games mark the low point of this campaign so far and have turned the hearts of Jazz fans toward Rudy Gobert. Realizations on how crucial he is to this franchise came about in brutal fashion. Every loss, some to mediocre and even bad teams, only prove Gobert’s impact on both ends of the court.
Now, hope returns in the form of Gobert clearing the league’s health and safety protocols. He is available to play and is expected to make his return to the court tonight, and it could hardly be against a more important foe: the reining MVP, Nikola Jokic, and his Denver Nuggets.
Oddly enough, the lone win for Utah in Gobert’s absence came against these same Nuggets just under two weeks ago. It was a peek into the highest defensive potential for the non-Gobert members of this team. Effort, rebounding, quality rotations and switching were all at high levels in a game where the Jazz were forced to play small-ball for much of the game. Jokic wound up with a triple-double, but didn’t have the same back-breaking impact he often has in games.
As impressive as that lone game was, the ensuing four games showed how much of an outlier that Jan. 5 matchup was. The Jazz will need Gobert to try and slow down not only Jokic, but also to play his usual role of making up for the deficiencies of the rest of the team.
Another thing to watch is how Donovan Mitchell will fare against a team he’s struggled against so far this season. In two games against the Nuggets, Mitchell scored 22 points and 17 points with an overall shooting percentage of 40.5 percent and a 3-point percentage of just 11.1.
Utah is 2-0 against the Nuggets regardless of Mitchell’s own struggles though, mainly because we’ve seen other players, such as Gobert (23 points, 16 rebounds in the first matchup) and Bojan Bogdanovic (36 points, 13 rebounds in the latest game) step up in his place.
Three Jazz players remain out due to health and safety protocols — Jared Butler, Elijah Hughes and Hassan Whiteside. The latter of those three is the only rotation player that will be out. As aforementioned, Gobert is available but Rudy Gay and Udoka Azubuike are also available to return tonight. With Whiteside still sidelined, Azubuike may see a few spot minutes if Quin Snyder wants a 7-footer on the floor when Gobert is taking a rest.
When: 6:00 PM MT
Where: Ball Arena, Denver, CO
TV: AT&T Sportsnet