SALT LAKE CITY — Nobody ever wants to lose, obviously.
In the NBA, playoff-bound teams especially don’t want to go into the All-Star break on a sour note.
That’s why Wednesday’s Utah Jazz game at Vivint Arena is so important. Of course, the NBA schedule is rarely forgiving and the Jazz will be up against a tough foe in their last game before the mid-season intermission — the Miami Heat — so getting the win is easier said than done.
“I’ll take the blame for that. It’s on me. He kicked my [butt] on three straight possessions.” — Utah Jazz All-Star Donovan Mitchell
Both teams sport identical records of 35-18 and will feature two players in the All-Star Game — Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell for the Jazz, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo for the Heat.
That is pretty much where the similarities between the teams end.
After losing five straight the Jazz have regained some momentum, winning their last three games. That includes a back-to-back Texas road set on Sunday and Monday, in Houston and Dallas, respectively.
Miami, on the other hand, will be closing out a six-game road trip. The Heat lost the first four games before winning Monday night at Golden State.
While the Jazz stood pat at the trade deadline and continue to gain continuity with their existing roster, the Heat have seen a fair amount of recent turnover and change, including the addition of Andre Iguodala and former Jazz man Jae Crowder.
In the last meeting between the two teams on Dec. 23, the Heat handed the Jazz a loss, a precursor to the Utah’s 10-game win streak.
In that game Butler scored 20 points, Adebayo finished with 18, and rookie Tyler Herro added 17, nine of which came in the fourth quarter against Mitchell.
“I’ll take the blame for that. It’s on me,” Mitchell said after the game. “He kicked my [butt] on three straight possessions.”
This time around Herro won’t be in the lineup. The sharp-shooting rookie is sidelined with an ankle injury that will also keep him out of the Rising Stars Challenge during the All-Star festivities in Chicago.
That doesn’t mean that the Heat won’t have weapons available. Crowder has scored a combined 39 points in his two games since being sent to Miami in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies that featured Iguodala.
The Heat have yet to face the Jazz since the trade for Jordan Clarkson. Clarkson is averaging 16 points per game off the bench.
Not all is well for Utah, though, as Mike Conley is listed as questionable for Wednesday night due to illness which once again seems to be traveling through the Jazz locker room.
Multiple players were spotting drinking throat-soothing tea recently and even coach Quin Snyder has not been impervious, having lost his voice earlier in the week. It got to the point that he was unable to speak to reporters following the Jazz’s most recent win in Dallas.
All told, the inter-conference battle between the fourth place teams will be a tough one for both sides, with each team ready to fight and desperate to finish off the pre-All-Star schedule on a positive note.