The Utah Jazz (11-8) take on the Miami Heat (5-12) tonight. Miami is on a road trip, and played last night against the Denver Nuggets. For them this #MIAatUTA game would be their third game in four nights; but instead of looking at these intangible factors of cumulative fatigue and forecasting a five game winning streak for the Jazz, us fans are worried. And with good reason! The team is injured. (Ser vs. Estar)
Yes, the Heat are also missing a few guys — Chris Bosh, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, and Dion Waiters — but they weren’t heralded in the off-season as a potential Top 4 team in the tougher Western Conference. That’s the Jazz. And when Utah has been relatively healthy they have looked worthy of all their off-season praise. But once again we’re not going to see the Jazz be relatively healthy for the next little while.
I wrote about how Utah survived October / November with their inventive line-ups. They will be starting December without starting point guard George Hill, starting shooting guard Rodney Hood, and starting power forward (and first back-up center) Derrick Favors, and the uniformly always injured Alec Burks.
Burks has been seen on the Aunt Viv court before games working his way back into game shape, but is still progressing through his left ankle rehabilitation. Favors has a left knee contusion, and has not seen the court since November 14th (#MEMatUTA). Hood has been more hearty, missing just one game so far this year, but had to leave the last game with a right hamstring strain and did not return.
And now we have Hill sitting this one out, and perhaps more. Hill has been the engine that’s driven this team, and Utah is 8-3 with him in the line-up. Without him, well, the 3-5 record is less sexy.
Personally? I’ve stopped detailing each and every injury this team has. This team is just having a lot of them. Privately some of us Dunkers have talked about why this is. The game has changed, the players have changed, the year long training has changed, and frankly, the medicine has changed. Workplace injury is something the NBA actually cares about now. And taking something from Gregg Popovich, teams are regularly sitting players to rest them during this jam-packed 82 game schedule.
What someone in the previous decades of NBA ball would play through now is something teams would rather sit a player for today. Toughness is always going to be questioned, especially by us fans who were spoiled by John Stockton and Karl Malone. Stock played a seven game Western Conference finals against HOFer Gary Payton on a leg he should have been protecting with crutches. No one was allowed to even mention that he was playing hurt until after the season was over.
Those days are over, though.
And as much as we want to worry about being “win now” vs. “developing” it’s also important to remember that it is STILL just December 1st. Utah’s going to make their push. And when they start it, so many teams are not going to be able to push back. But Dennis Lindsey, Quin Snyder and company aren’t going to push until this team is ready. And with injuries that means we’re going to have to wait a little while.
Holding onto a better than .500 record with four of your top guys out almost every night shows you that the depth is for real. Bringing a guy back from injury too soon is a poor strategy that this team figured out over the last few seasons. With more to lose this time around, they are going to play it conservatively.
It’s not fun, but it’s the new normal for this Jazz franchise. But we’re still fans. And as much as my dry, clinical logic is boring, you guys and gals want to read some real analysis. So here’s My_Lo to take you though it.
SERIOUSLY? ANOTHER INJURY? Injuries are becoming as predictable to Utah as an ending twist in a M. Night Shamalan movie. I’m not surprised by them anymore; I’m more shocked when they don’t occur. A lot of us, myself included, have begged for Dante Exum to get time over Shelvin Mack, but it appears the basketball gods have a sick sense of humor choosing Hill as the sacrificial lamb in Mack’s place.
At least with Hill’s injury we got a glimpse into why Shelvin Mack was getting the backup role and not Exum with Quin Snyder saying that he “feel[s] like with [his] second group right now, scoring is something that's important.” So that may appear to be why Shelvin Mack is getting the nod in those situations over Exum. Not that it matters anymore because George Hill is taking Exum’s spot on the pine.
Mylar Hightower, 2016
I think we are getting to know that this team is quite good with Hill on the floor. And I think we can assume that the team is deadlier when Burks is going to be doing his ‘corner pimp’ stuff off the bench. Not having either of them does leave the guard spots a little light. But that light at the end of the injury tunnel could be that Dante Exum guy. Even if he’s playing out of position get him out there on the court.
Against a group of Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, and Wayne Ellington, yeah, specifically against these guys you want to throw Dante out there and use his length and athleticism to be disruptive on defense. Make the best of this situation — like what Trey Lyles did last year with all the bigmen injuries. Get out on the court (Quin’s problem, not mine), get experience, and know that it’s all cumulative. WHEN Utah is ready to make that huge #playoffpush they will succeed. Winning early season games is great. Being injured sucks. But being a stronger team when the games matter the most is the big picture the Jazz brass are being mindful of. (And that’s why we haven’t seen any KOC era mid-season-panic trades this year.)
It’s a bad situation with all the guys missing time. But this is a good team. #TakeNote