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Utah Jazz vs Los Angeles Clippers: Five things to watch

Banged up Jazz taking on the not-banged up Clippers

NBA: All Star Practice Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday, the Utah Jazz (41-25) don’t get time to dwell on their shortcomings.

I feel most fans were relatively forgiving considering Rudy Gobert was a late scratch from the lineup. But still, Utah’s top scorers were Dante Exum and Alec Burks. That should never happen (especially the first one). They could have at least put up a fight.

Still, life in the NBA goes on. And that means the Jazz are back to defending their fourth seed in the West. This time they’ll be facing the team that sits one game below them at the fifth seed: the Los Angeles Clippers (40-26).

So what are we watching for?

Rudy Gobert

First off, will he play? Gobert is listed as questionable for tonight’s game. As previously mentioned, he sat out the game against the Thunder with leg soreness. It isn’t a severe injury so barring complications he should be back in the next game or two. But is it one or two?

Secondly, should Gobert play, he will be facing off against DeAndre Jordan. And this is more significant than just two really good centers going at it. Rudy Gobert was snubbed from the All-Star game, likely because the votes went to Jordan. Gobert wasn’t necessarily pleased about not getting selected. So we might get to see Angry Rudy tonight.

Dante Exum

Who here saw Dante Exum’s 22 points coming? Yea, didn’t think so. Exum has showed flashes in the past, but not quite to the point we saw against the Thunder. Now, some of that has to do with the situation Exum was in. But regardless, he still had to put the ball in the bucket. And he did.

Exum is fairly inconsistent so it is unlikely that we’ll see another good performance much less a 22-point performance. But he’s at least worth keeping an eye on to see if he’ll continue to be aggressive.

Playoff stakes

Just like the games against Houston and Oklahoma City, this game will play a crucial role in tiebreakers come the end of the season. But while the other two will likely not matter, this one definitely does.

This won’t be the last time these two teams meet (that would be March 25 in Utah). But a win tonight would seal the season series in favor of the bad guys.

Will the “good” Jazz show up?

There’s no doubt that when the Jazz show up, they can go toe-to-toe with literally every team in the league. The problem has been getting that team to show up every night. Right now, that is the number one obstacle that is barring Utah from greatness.

It’s been well-documented that the Jazz have the worst record among winning teams against teams above .500. There are some reasons for this (injuries), but they are as much excuses as they are valid reasons.

Utah has also vastly under-performed against the Clippers this season. In two games they’ve scored 147 points (73.5 per game). The only redeeming factor is that they’ve held Los Angles to 88 points in each of those games. So maybe if the offense shows up the Jazz can win.

Will the “good” Clippers show up?

I just ragged on the Jazz for being inconsistent, but the Clippers have been inconsistent too.

Since the return of Chris Paul, Los Angeles is 5-4. In the month of March alone, they have posted wins against Boston and Memphis as well as losses against Minnesota and Milwaukee (didn’t know that many NBA cities began with “M”).

Blake Griffin has also been having a down month so far. He’s averaging 16.5 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 41.5 percent from the field (his season average is 21.7/8.5 and 48.3 percent FG%)

So the point here is that both of these teams have been inconsistent as of late. The Jazz are banged up (that hasn’t been news for two years) so it’s hard to know if they’ll be able to keep up with a legitimate playoff team.