Utah Jazz: No breaks for banged-up Jazz as they face Lakers in Salt Lake
Tony Gutierrez, Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY — After the team's comeback win against Portland on Monday, Earl Watson enthusiastically spoke about the Utah Jazz's upcoming week.
The Jazz were coming off an emotional and "epic" victory, which boosted their record to an unexpectedly good 12-7.
Spirits were soaring.
Smiles lit up faces in the locker room.
With the Jazz on the precipice of making a major move and statement in the Western Conference playoff race, Watson said the week was full of "amazing opportunities."
The NBA's injury gods must have taken that as a personal challenge.
Considering how the week has transpired — losing two straight games and point guards — it might be considered amazing if the Jazz simply manage to pull off a .500 record for their four-game schedule.
To do that, Utah will have to do something tonight with a shorthanded squad that it wasn't able to do at full strength a few weeks ago — beat the Los Angeles Lakers at home.
Because of their injury situation, it's unknown exactly who will be available to go for the Jazz, who hope to avoid both their first three-game losing streak and falling to Kobe Bryant & Co. for a second time at home this season.
It's unknown, though, who the Jazz will have available in their banged-up backcourt as they try to bounce back from losses to the Clippers and Warriors after the Blazer victory.
The status of starters Devin Harris (hamstring) and Raja Bell (groin) as well as key reserve Watson (ankle) are up in the air — or up in the training room, to be more precise.
The three guards — who average 70.8 minutes combined — missed Thursday's 119-101 loss at Golden State. Bell and Watson are day-to-day, and Harris is a game-time decision.
That could result in rarely used point guard Jamaal Tinsley being called into action again, with rookie shooting guard Alec Burks and perhaps swingman Gordon Hayward sharing ball-handling duties.
That situation isn't ideal, obviously. But Tinsley, a nine-year NBA veteran who's trying to revive his career, played well while dishing out a team season-high 13 assists Thursday.
"No excuses. You've just got to be ready," Jazz center Al Jefferson said of the Jazz's injury situation. "It's a part of the game. It's part of what we have to do. Can't sit back and complain about it because there ain't nobody who's going to care anyway. We've just got to continue to go on and keep fighting."
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin has preached up a storm all season about the importance of having all 13 players ready to go at a minute's notice due to the compressed nature of this lockout-shortened season.
Games are coming at a fast pace — and they knew wear-and-tear injuries could come just as quickly. Josh Howard had missed four games with a strained quad, Al Jefferson had his ankle problem and Bell was sidelined with a recurring adductor issue.
Even so, Utah had mostly avoided the injury bug compared to some NBA teams.
That changed Wednesday when Harris and Watson were injured minutes apart from each other in the same game, leaving Utah thin on the guard line and with only 10 healthy players.
"Everybody's going through it," Corbin said. "A shortened season, a lot of games in a row. Guys are going to be in and out of the lineups and that's part of the league, so you just have to continue to fight."
Corbin believes the Jazz can keep winning even with a few guys sidelined.
"We've got capable guys in here. I feel good about where we are," he said. "We just have to continue to work. We can't afford to make mistakes and not execute our offense and let them create tempo that way."
The last part was a reference to Thursday's blowout loss in which the Jazz strayed from their offense, getting into a frantic style of play that favored the Warriors.
But the concept remains the same against the Lakers in terms of Utah needing to execute an inside-out game that revolves around bigs Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap while also taking advantage of transition opportunities when available.
"It's an important game. It's on our home floor," Corbin said. "Regardless who's in uniform, we've got to be ready to play. They're one of the best teams in the league and they play well on the road, so we expect them to come in and it's going to be a tough fight."
Assuming, that is, the Lakers make it out of snowy Denver, where they played Friday.
Tinsley will embrace the playing time again if his services are required.
"A lot of people don't get another opportunity. I always want to be ready," said Tinsley, who didn't play in the NBA in 2010-11 and was in the D-League as recently as December.
"There are certain things I can control, just stay ready for my number to be called," he added, saying he wasn't bothered by playing 34 minutes after seeing a total of 45 minutes combined in Utah's first 20 games. "I'm always ready for that challenge. Players like to play."
Especially when amazing opportunities — whatever they may be — present themselves.
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