Ailing Jazz return home to face Wizards
SALT LAKE CITY -- Injuries are keeping the same company as death and taxes for the Utah Jazz this season. When it comes to staying healthy, the Jazz can't seem to catch a break.
A quadriceps contusion sidelined forward Gordon Hayward on Monday against New Orleans. Then, on Wednesday at Sacramento, point guards George Hill and Raul Neto both sat out with strained groins.
Still, Utah (46-29) isn't letting those mounting injuries get in the way while it battles to secure a Top-4 seed and homecourt advantage. The Jazz took care of the Pelicans in a 108-100 win and followed up with a 112-82 rout over the Kings.
Now they return to Utah to host the Washington Wizards on Friday night as the Jazz look to extend their current winning streak to four games.
Injuries to starters like Hill, Hayward and power forward Derrick Favors -- who has missed multiple games with a knee contusion -- have created opportunities for other players to step forward and play important roles.
One such player is Shelvin Mack. The veteran guard saw his minutes dwindle and he fell out of the rotation earlier in the season. A sprained ankle complicated his efforts to get back into the lineup. The coaches assured Mack he would get his chance again.
"They just kept telling me to stay ready," he said. "Stay ready the when the time comes."
Once Mack got off the bench against the Kings, he responded with 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 28 minutes. The bulk of his points came in a critical third-quarter stretch where he helped Utah hold off a Sacramento rally after the Kings had whittled a double-digit lead to three points.
Mack also clogged passing lanes and forced turnovers which, Utah coach Quin Snyder said, means as much as scoring for a bench player trying to earn a bigger role.
"What we've said is: Whoever plays has to try to defend," Snyder said. "He had five defections, and that's what we want from guys off the bench. They come in and they do that. The offense sometimes takes care of itself."
Washington (46-29) has clinched a Southeast Division title, but still has plenty at stake in Salt Lake City. The Wizards trail Boston by two games and Cleveland by 1 1/2 games for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and are a game ahead of fourth-place Toronto.
Every game is critical in the battle for seeding at this point. Washington cannot afford to take another step back on its current road trip after falling to the Los Angeles Clippers 133-124 on Wednesday.
The Clippers, who are a game behind the Jazz, scored a season-high 74 first-half points and shot 56.6 percent from the field during the game. It offset a second straight strong offensive performance for the Wizards, who beat the Los Angeles Lakers 119-108 on Tuesday night to clinch their division title.
"The Clippers made a lot of shots, and they had over 70 at halftime, which is way too many," guard Bradley Beal said. "We were able to put some stops together, but when you're playing catch-up, it's always tough."
John Wall has been playing out of his mind for the Wizards during their current road trip. In three games, Wall is averaging 37.3 points, 11.0 assists and 3.0 steals. Beal has complimented him with 23.3 points per game during the same stretch.
Washington has had tremendous success on the road in March. The Wizards are 7-4 away from home this month. Utah is looking to add to a five-game winning streak in its home arena.
Updated March 31, 2017