SALT LAKE CITY — For the second game in a row, the Utah Jazz could be without starting point guard Ricky Rubio.
Rubio is listed as questionable with left hamstring soreness for Sunday’s game against his former Minnesota Timberwolves team.
He also missed Friday’s home game over Memphis with the same injury, but the Jazz were still able to win, 107-97, with Dante Exum stepping to score a season-high 21 points off the bench up in his absence.
“It was different without him, but (Dante Exum) was huge in the last quarter,” Jazz forward Joe Ingles said of playing without Rubio. “He had to get on the rim and go and make plays for other guys, some steals at the end. It was a huge part of getting that lead up.”
Rubio is extremely familiar with Minnesota.
He spent the first six seasons of his career in a Timberwolves jersey before being traded to the Jazz for a 2018 first-round pick on June 30. He still holds the second-most assists in franchise history (2,991), but never won more than 40 games or reached the postseason throughout that stretch.
With six regular season games remaining, Rubio has already logged 43 victories with the Jazz as they sit in the seventh spot on the Western Conference standings with a serious chance to jump as high as fifth. Rubio averages a career-best 12.8 points, 5.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds this season.
Although he hasn’t had any playoff experience in the NBA, the Spaniard has been a professional since the age of 14. Rubio has also won EuroLeague, Spanish League, FIBA EuroChallenge and ULEB Cup championships with clubs overseas, so he’s not totally in uncharted territory at this point of the year.
“I remember playing in Europe and getting to playoffs every year, and it was a fun time of year and then playing with the national team and always playing for the medal,” Rubio said. “I know these kind of games are always different games and making the playoffs in the NBA is something that I’m looking forward. We’re pretty confident, but we go game by game.”
Minnesota (44-33) currently holds that No. 5 spot, with a half-game lead over the Jazz, so Sunday’s game could strongly dictate the final playoff push for both teams. Derrick Rose is doubtful to play with a sprained right ankle while All-Star wing Jimmy Butler has been cleared for contact but will remain out as he recovers from right knee meniscus surgery.
The Timberwolves have beat Utah twice this season, but the Jazz pulled out a gritty 116-108 victory against Minnesota in their last meeting at Vivint Arena on March 2. That last contest resulted in three ejections, five technical fouls and a Flagrant 2 plus a postgame Twitter war between former college teammates Jae Crowder and Butler.
Rubio was involved in the heated exchanged as he was shoved to the floor by with a cheap shot from Jeff Teague, which led to his ejection.
Although it’s unclear whether Rubio will suit up in the Target Center, his teammates are confident that he can help the Jazz maintain a strong playoff position during this final stretch.
“When he was in Spain, he was winning, too,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said of Rubio. “It’s a bit different but I’m happy for him. He came in and he contributed big time for us this year and hopefully we can do great things together.”