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Injury-plagued Utah Jazz suffer tough defeat to Chicago Bulls

SALT LAKE CITY — Because of their players’ health — either injuries and/or illness — the Utah Jazz have been forced to use seven starting lineups this season.

Keep in mind, the Jazz have now played 14 games, so that equates to a different first five every other game on average.

That, of course, is not ideal.

“You just have to adapt,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said before this TNT-televised late game against the Chicago Bulls tipped off.

On Thursday, the Jazz tried but were unable to adapt to the absence of starters George Hill (thumb) and Derrick Favors and struggled to the tune of an 85-77 defeat to the Bulls at Vivint Arena.

Utah made it interesting after falling behind by 17 points in the second half, pulling within five points with just over two and a half minutes left when Dante Exum sank a desperation 3-pointer. Exum caught an inbounds pass from Gordon Hayward with 1.0 seconds left on the clock and hucked it up and in.

The Bulls, who've won four in a row, responded with clutch buckets by Dwyane Wade (18 points) and Jimmy Butler (20 points). Chicago managed to win despite only scoring 85 points and shooting 36.7 percent, thanks to an anemic offensive output by the suddenly struggling Jazz.

Utah, which only scored 20 or more points in a 26-point first quarter, fell to 7-6 after losing its second straight home game.

"We weren't very good, that’s clear," Snyder said. "... We had some open shots and we didn't make them. The ball wasn’t moving as well as we’d like to see it move. Sometimes when you're missing shots you just let it impact everyting. You become stagnant."

The Jazz had things going their way late in the first half, taking a 43-38 lead after a nice Joe Johnson alley-oop pass to Rodney Hood for a crowd-pleasing dunk that capped a 6-0 run.

That momentum shifted heading into the locker room, however, after Gordon Hayward forced up a tough attempt with five seconds remaining instead of waiting for the final shot of the half.

Jimmy Butler made the Jazz pay. The All-Star small forward hustled down the court and calmly sank a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to cut the Jazz’s lead to 43-41 at the break.

That was a sign of things to come.

Utah came out of the locker room flat, missing its first six shots while falling behind 49-43.

Snyder called a timeout, and the Jazz responded as Hood gave them their first points of the half almost four minutes into the third quarter.

The Bulls didn’t buckle, though, stretching their lead to 75-58 early in the fourth quarter, thanks to a 16-4 run.

Utah scored its first points of the fourth quarter when Johnson hit a pair of free throws at the 9:38 mark.

The Jazz got within eight, 78-70, after a pair of Dante Exum free throws with 5:40 remaining, but they simply didn’t have enough firepower on this night to catch up.

Utah fell to 7-6 while losing for the third time in five outings on their home court.

The Jazz, who are 5-3 away from Utah, take to the road next for a weekend back-to-back in Houston (Saturday) and Denver (Sunday).

Along with his big scoring night, Butler finished with 11 rebounds, three assists and two steals for the Bulls.

“I’m a huge fan and have been. I just like the way he plays,” Snyder said. “I like his presence, his competitiveness. He’s a guy, in my mind, because of the way he works at his craft, he’s a pro. As a result, he has gotten better every year. It’s not surprising.”

Conversely, it was a rough night for Butler's counterpart on the Jazz.

Gordon Hayward, who played so well on the team's five-game road trip last week, only scored eight points on 3-of-15 shooting. He grabbed 12 rebounds.

Rudy Gobert led Utah with 16 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. Exum (14 points), Rodney Hood (12 points) and Trey Lyles (11 points) also hit double figures in scoring, but the Jazz only shot 38.5 percent.

"Obviously we miss George and want him back, but (there were) some shots we got tonight that we hit on a regular basis," Hood said. "It’s just energy. We’ve just got to pick up our energy, everybody really, so we can get cleaner looks rather than get a lot of contested looks."

While Hill continues to participate more after missing six straight with his sprained right thumb, Favors’ return doesn’t seem imminent. It’s possible the 6-foot-10 power forward could be sidelined for a while as he allows the bone contusion in his knee to heal.

That injury has plagued him since early in training camp, forcing him to miss most of the preseason and the season-opener. It continued to affect his play once he returned, and eventually forced him to the point of not being able to play.

“It’s been a challenge for him. I think the main thing for him is you reach a point where you’re not effective,” Snyder said. “Or you’re less effective to the point where you need to address the situation in a different way. …

“I wouldn’t say it’s gotten worse,” the Jazz coach added. “I couldn’t give you a great medical opinion. I don’t want to speak out of turn, but it’s at a point where he feels and we feel this is the best course of action.”

That puts the Jazz in a tough spot. Utah is clearly a better team with a healthy Favors.

At this point, they can only be patient and, as Snyder pointed out, try to adapt.

“It’s an imperfect situation,” Snyder said. “On the front end you try to accept that and try to make it as good as you can.”