SALT LAKE CITY — One of the main storylines as last season’s second-round playoff series between the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets unfolded was how many key injuries the Jazz ended up dealing with.
Ricky Rubio missed all five games and Dante Exum was out for the final one, while a number of players left games early after getting banged up, including Donovan Mitchell in that elimination contest.
As the teams get ready to square off this year — this time in the first round — Utah once again has multiple players who could at the outset be either unavailable altogether or at least limited.
For starters, there’s Exum. He'll be out for Sunday's Game 1, and while the team hasn’t officially ruled him out for the series or season, recovery from surgery to repair a patellar tendon, which he underwent March 27, generally takes at least a few months. Additionally, head coach Quin Snyder noted after the team practiced on Friday that a difference between this year’s series and last year’s would be Exum's availability.
The next injury in terms of severity is Kyle Korver. He last played on March 29 because of right knee soreness and is listed as questionable for Game 1. He did not practice on Friday (he did shoot some set shots at the end with his knee heavily wrapped), but participated in portions of practice on Saturday.
Rubio missed the last three contests of the regular season with a left quad contusion after getting hurt early in the April 5 game against the Sacramento Kings and is listed as probable for Sunday. He participated in just parts of practice on Friday before being a full participant on Saturday.
Lastly, Raul Neto is also listed as probable for Sunday. He missed the last four games of the regular season because of left ankle soreness. Like Rubio, he was a partial participant in Friday's practice and a full participant on Saturday.
“Our mentality has to be to control what we can control,” Snyder said Friday. “Whatever’s going on as far as how the game’s called, whether we make a shot or not, who’s playing for us, we just need to control what we can control … If we have someone who’s healthy, great. If we have someone that’s 90 percent or whatever, we have to play within what we can.”
Snyder did, however, express a certain level of optimism that Rubio, Korver and Neto will be available come Sunday.
“Hopefully those guys — Kyle, Ricky, (Derrick Favors), some of the guys that have been banged up, Raul — will be able to play, but you never know,” he said.
While Snyder was more reserved in his optimism, Rudy Gobert said, “It’s going to be great to have Ricky and hopefully Raul back for the series,” while Donovan Mitchell reflected on what it was like last season to not have Rubio available against the Rockets and said, “To have Ricky, who is a dominant ballhandler … makes it easier for everybody.”
As for Favors, he looked good in the second-to-last game of the regular season after missing the previous four because of back spasms, an injury that has bothered him at a number of different junctures in his career (like Mitchell and Gobert, he sat for the season finale against the LA Clippers), and his ability to defend on the perimeter could prove to be important in the series.
Such could be even more key with Exum out, as he has proven to be very good at defending Houston star guards James Harden and Chris Paul.
Snyder pointed out Friday that as the series progresses, the chances of more injuries occurring will increase, so it will be crucial that his team stays locked in.
“Guys are going to be banged up between Game 2 and 3,” he said, “so all those variables, we need to approach them the right way — what we can control.”
NBA Western Conference Quarterfinals
No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz
- Game 1: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. at Houston, ATTSN/TNT
- Game 2: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. at Houston, ATTSN/TNT
- Game 3: Saturday, April 20, 8:30 p.m. at Salt Lake City, ATTSN/ESPN
- Game 4: Monday, April 22, 8:30 p.m. at Salt Lake City, ATTSN/TNT
- Game 5: Wednesday, April 24, TBD, at Houston, TBD, if necessary
- Game 6: Friday, April 26, TBD at Salt Lake City, TBD, if necessary
- Game 7: Sunday, April 28, TBD at Houston, TBD, if necessary