Jazz aim to keep winning in Donovan Mitchell’s absence

NBA Basketball

It’s been four months since the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves played each other, but it seems even longer considering the vastly different directions their seasons have gone in the meantime.

On Dec. 26, Minnesota took advantage of some late-game miscues by Utah, and held on for a 116-111 road victory at Vivint Arena.

“We played a tough game today,” Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said at the time. “We gutted this one out. Played great defense all around.”

That result gave Minnesota a 2-0 start, while the Jazz dropped to 1-1.

Things have certainly changed as the teams prepare to meet Saturday night in Salt Lake City. Utah enters with an NBA-leading 44-15 record and is a whopping 28.5 games ahead of the Timberwolves (16-44) in the Northwest Division standings.

Utah comes into this game having won four of five, including two straight road wins without injured All-Star Donovan Mitchell.

Minnesota has lost four of six and hasn’t earned victories in consecutive games since opening with wins over Detroit and Utah. The T-Wolves suffered a frustrating last-second 128-125 loss at Sacramento on Wednesday. Towns scored 26 but missed a shot in the final seconds.

“Very deflating,” said Minnesota’s Naz Reid after scoring 24 points in the loss. “It’s not like we can’t do it. I don’t know what it is.”

Even without Mitchell, the Jazz are finding plenty of offense from their deep roster. Two of the leading candidates for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award — frontrunner Jordan Clarkson (22 points) and Joe Ingles (21 points) — took the lead in their 112-89 blowout win in Houston on Wednesday.

That postseason award was one of the interview topics after the Utah-Houston game.

“I’ve never in my life thought about it,” Ingles said. “I don’t know if he does. We’ve never had a conversation about it. It doesn’t affect me or my thought going into a game, and I’d feel pretty confident saying the same for (Clarkson). We take pride in our role of coming off the bench.”

Ingles will likely continue to start until the team’s leading scorer returns. Mitchell is out for at least another week because of his right ankle sprain. Jazz coach Quin Snyder said he expects consistency from Ingles regardless of when he enters the game.

“I just want him to play a certain way, and that’s what he’s doing right now,” Snyder said. “Any time certain players are out, guys feel that. They understand, and they know they need to be more aggressive. The thing that he’s done the best is, he’s been able to adjust to those things, whether he’s starting or coming off the bench.”

The Jazz and Timberwolves play twice in the next three days — Saturday in Salt Lake City and Monday in Minnesota.

–Field Level Media

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