When the Utah Jazz take aim at their fourth straight victory and a chance to move back to .500 Thursday night on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers, the game will be more about who isn’t playing more than who is.
The Jazz trio of Rudy Gobert, Dante Exum and Joe Johnson is all out long-term (the team announced Wednesday evening that Johnson will miss at least two more weeks with a hand injury) and could also be sans Rodney Hood and Raul Neto. Hood missed Tuesday’s win over the Denver Nuggets because of left ankle soreness and Neto has left hamstring soreness.
The Clippers (8-11) are in even worse shape, as the sprained MCL star Blake Griffin suffered Monday night is expected to sideline him for a few months, adding to a long-term injury list that also includes small forward Danilo Gallinari and point guards Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic.
“Injuries, absolutely, it’s always unfortunate,” Utah head coach Quin Snyder said before Tuesday’s game, acknowledging that Western Conference stars such as Denver’s Paul Millsap, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Houston’s Chris Paul and Memphis’ Mike Conley have also missed significant time. “You hate to see that for teams, for players, for organizations.”
Regarding Gobert’s injury, Snyder admitted that there was worry even inside the team that “the wheels would come off,” but the Jazz have gone 5-4 in his absence, and the offense has been humming.
This in large measure is due to the spacing Utah's created with just Derrick Favors in the paint instead of both him and Gobert, given that neither of them is a functional shooter beyond the arc.
According to lineup data on NBA.com, Gobert and Favors averaged 19 minutes per game on the floor together in the Jazz’s first 12 games before the Frenchman got hurt, and Utah scored 94.3 points per 100 possessions with them sharing the court. Taken over the course of the NBA season to this point, that mark would be better than only one team: the Chicago Bulls.
But in the nine games since Gobert has been out, Utah is scoring 111.7 points per 100 possessions, good enough for third in the league. Instead of having two non-shooting big men on the floor for large stretches, Snyder has primarily played Jonas Jerebko or Thabo Sefolosha at the “power forward” spot and Favors or Ekpe Udoh at center.
Jerebko has made an impressive 14 of his 29 3-point attempts during that span, while Sefolosha has been a capable driver from the perimeter and a good passer. As a team over this stretch, the Jazz are second in the league in 3-pointers made per game and 3-point percentage and eighth in 3-point attempts.
In its current three-game winning streak, Utah has averaged 112.3 points per contest and has made a remarkable 46 of 99 3-point attempts.
“Their 3-point percentages are up, and I think a lot of that is a byproduct of their drive-and-kick game,” said Denver head coach Michael Malone before the Jazz hit 14 of 32 attempts from beyond the arc against his team on Tuesday.
Count Sefolosha as one player who enjoys playing more of a “four-out” style with just one big man in the paint on offense instead of two.
“I’ve got to say the coach makes it fun,” he said. “We’re moving the ball, everybody gets involved.”
Despite their injuries, the Clippers enter the game having beaten the Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers in consecutive contests following a 12-game stretch in which they went an awful 1-11.