OKLAHOMA CITY — There’s been a common theme in recent Utah Jazz games.
And, no, it’s not just losses.
Since the Jazz’s sixth man, Alec Burks, injured his ankle last week, the rotation has been tightened up. In a couple of games, in fact, Utah coach Tyrone Corbin only used eight of his 13 available players.
While it’s not uncommon for teams to whittle their rotation down heading into the postseason, it’s interesting to see the Jazz use a limited number of players in the final stretch of games this season.
And especially because Utah’s key players, who’ve had a busy March with 15 games in 27 days, have seemed to run out of gas in the final minutes of recent losses.
Corbin called nine players into action Friday night in New Orleans, where the Jazz saw a late 80-79 deficit evolve into a 102-95 loss with a rough final four minutes.
“You’re 73 games into the season. Everybody’s a little gassed. If you’ve ever played an NBA season, (you know) this time everybody’s tired,” Corbin said. “But players want to play. They understand the moment. You’ve got to learn to play tired.”
Meanwhile, seldom-used players like Rudy Gobert, Ian Clark, Brandon Rush, Malcolm Thomas and John Lucas III continue to wait for rare opportunities.
Utah players — the ones who played — didn’t pull out the ran-out-of-gas card.
“You could say that, but I would think that’s an excuse,” Jazz rookie point guard Trey Burke said. “That may be the reality of the situation. It is Game (73). I’m sure other teams are just as tired as well.”
On Wednesday, only eight Jazz players saw time in the 91-87 setback to Memphis. Utah led 84-77 with just over four minutes remaining before running out of steam in a 91-87 defeat.
The Jazz emptied their bench in the ugly 114-94 loss to Detroit on Monday, although the starters and backup Marvin Williams played the vast majority of minutes.
Using fewer players hasn’t always backfired, though. Only eight players got off the bench against Orlando last Saturday, but Burke’s late 3-pointer pushed the Jazz to a victory.
“We’re playing hard. We’re rarely laying eggs. We’re just out there competing,” Jazz veteran Richard Jefferson said. “The last four or five minutes we don’t do a very good job of executing. That could be part fatigue; that could also be part experience.”
Corbin also pointed out that fact — that these extended opportunities for guys like Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Burke can be a good thing for them in the future.
“Guys are playing a little bit more,” he said, “and they’re getting more experience as a result.”
Favors thinks the team just needs to get better at executing down the stretch regardless of how much energy players have left in the tank.
“Especially in the close games, a lot of teams know how to close them out. They know how to run through their offensive sets with patience and how to play defense in the closing minutes, and they know how to close out games,” Favors said. “It’s something we’ve got to learn how to do.”
The Jazz could see their lineup expand if Burks, a game-time decision, plays Sunday against the Thunder after practicing with the team on Saturday.
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