Jazz open key two-game set with Spurs

NBA Basketball

It is interesting timing for the San Antonio Spurs to be visiting Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Jazz.

The fact that one of the key players in Utah’s win over Toronto on Saturday was a player not many have heard of this late into the season has a very Spurs-like feel to it. Considering Utah is coached by a former disciple of Gregg Popovich, and Dennis Lindsey came to Utah from San Antonio to become the team’s general manager, it’s not surprising there are elements of similarity.

The Jazz (46-18) will rely on other guys who seem to fit the Spurs’ mold — Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, Georges Niang and, heck, even international star Rudy Gobert — to continue their winning ways in light of the absence of their starting All-Star guards.

Donovan Mitchell (ankle) and Mike Conley (hamstring) will be sidelined for the first of two Jazz-Spurs games on Monday night.

Utah has been learning to live without them as they’ve dealt with annoying late-season injuries. Bojan Bogdanovic, another player you could imagine playing for Popovich, led the Jazz with 34 points in the 106-102 comeback win over the Raptors.

And while regular contributors like Ingles (15 points, nine assists), Jordan Clarkson (15 points), Gobert (13 points, 16 rebounds) and O’Neale (nine points, 10 rebounds) played well in the win for Utah, it was rookie guard Trent Forrest who made some of the key plays in the fourth quarter.

One was a block of Fred VanVleet, who scored 30 points. Another was a timely 3-pointer that gave the Jazz a five-point lead against a Toronto team that wouldn’t quit. Snyder said that felt more important than just three points.

The absence of Mitchell and Conley gave Forrest an opportunity, and he seized it.

“I think he really works defensively. He’s long. He had that one big block on VanVleet,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “He really — for a young guy who just got thrown into it — plays with a lot of poise.”

To stay in the race for the No. 1 overall seed — Utah is tied with Phoenix record-wise but technically is in second place due to the tiebreaker — the Jazz really need to beat San Antonio (31-32) in this Monday-Wednesday series in Salt Lake City.

It’s a good thing the Jazz had Sunday off because they had been playing on fumes, including during a back-to-back set on Friday and Saturday that featured the home win vs. Toronto after a blowout loss in Phoenix.

“This one feels good because it was a fight. Nothing was given to us — we had to go get it,” said Gobert, who was asked if the Jazz were feeling extra tired and had any energy left in the tank. “Pretty empty — but I’ll go in the gas station tomorrow.”

The Spurs arrive in Salt Lake City having lost three straight games. But two of the losses were in overtime, including Sunday’s 113-111 defeat to Philadelphia. Popovich said he liked what he saw from his players against the Sixers, especially considering four starters missed the game. Dejounte Murray (left-knee soreness) and Derrick White (ankle) have injuries, and DeMar DeRozan and former University of Utah star Jakob Poeltl rested.

In their place, Lonnie Walker IV scored 23 points, and Keldon Johnson had 19, Rudy Gay 18 and Gorgui Dieng 17.

“I am just really excited for how hard we are playing,” Popovich said. “I just hope they continue to believe in themselves because they have had kind of a tough road.”

Six of the Spurs’ next seven games are on the road.

The Jazz, who beat San Antonio 130-109 in January, have four more home games before leaving Utah again.

–Field Level Media

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