Utah and Denver have two of the best young guards in the NBA, a pair that put on a dazzling show in a first-round playoff series in the Orlando bubble last summer.
There will be no repeat of that when the Jazz host the Nuggets on Friday night in the last of three-game season series between the two.
Utah’s Donovan Mitchell has missed the last 10 games with a right ankle sprain and could miss his 11th while Jamal Murray is out for the season and beyond with a torn ACL in his left knee. What’s more, the teams’ second-best guards are ailing, too.
Like many teams at this time of the year, the Jazz and Denver are limping to the playoffs, but each is trying to establish something. Utah (48-18) is just one game ahead of Phoenix for the top seed in the Western Conference, while the Nuggets (44-22) are tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for third place with six games to go.
Donovan’s backcourt teammate Mike Conley has missed five straight games with a hamstring injury. Despite the setbacks, the Jazz have stayed in the fight for the top spot in the Western Conference with other players stepping up.
One night it might be Bojan Bogdanovic or Rudy Gobert, and other nights it’s Jordan Clarkson, who torched the San Antonio Spurs for 30 points in a win Wednesday night.
Bogdanovic has averaged 25.8 points a game since Conley has been out.
“Right now we are trying figure out how to play without Donovan and Mike, we are trying to run more … so it’s good for me to get my confidence back and be ready for the playoffs,” Bogdanovic said after Wednesday’s win.
Denver’s injury woes run deeper than two guards. Monte Morris and Will Barton have missed multiple games with strained hamstrings and P.J. Dozier suffered an adductor strain Monday night and will “be out for a while,” coach Michael Malone said Wednesday.
Morris and Barton are expected back before the postseason.
Without them the Nuggets have found a way to keep succeeding. They have won 10 of 12 games since Murray went down on April 12 thanks to MVP candidate Nikola Jokic and the backups’ backups. Austin Rivers, signed after Murray was hurt, scored 25 points a win over the New York Knicks on Wednesday night and 30-year-old rookie Facundo Campazzo had 16 points, nine rebounds and five steals against New York, the second straight game he has five steals.
“It is a testament to our players’ belief in themselves, first and foremost, as well as the man next to them,” Malone said after Wednesday’s game. “You never want to see Jamal, Monte, Will and P.J. go down to injuries, but for a long time, we’ve always had that next man up mentality. I know as a head coach, and as a leader of this team, I don’t care who we have available, as long as we have five guys to suit up, we’re going to go out and compete and we’re going to fight and we’re going to give ourselves a chance.”
–Field Level Media