at GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Tip-off: Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Line: NA, Total: NA
The Warriors try to stay afloat with almost all of their stars injured.When the Warriors signed SF Kevin Durant in the summer of 2016, it felt like an already nearly unbeatable lineup was made invincible. Even if one of the Warriors' stars got injured—heck, even if two of their stars got injured—they'd still be able to at least contend for a title, if not continue to dominate en route to winning one. Of course, even Golden State can only take so many injuries before it starts to lose, and that's what has happened recently with Durant, PG Stephen Curry, SG Klay Thompson and PF Draymond Green all sidelined. Entering their Friday night game against the Hawks, the Dubs had lost four of their last six, with the only two victories in that stretch coming against the Lakers and Suns. On Wednesday, head coach Steve Kerr said Curry was the closest of the quartet to returning to the lineup, with a possible return set for Friday. Green is listed as day-to-day and could be back by Sunday's game against the Jazz, but neither Durant nor Thompson figure to be back by then. Shorthanded our not, they'll have their hands full against a streaking Utah team that had won nine straight before losing to Atlanta on Tuesday. Within approximately equal distance of home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and falling out of the playoffs altogether, the Jazz have plenty to play for. Utah and Golden State have split their two games thus far this season, with the Jazz blowing out a full-strength Warriors squad by 30 points on January 30.
Anyone who had the Jazz written in as an obvious lottery participant before the season began clearly underestimated rookie SG Donovan Mitchell. Then again, so did everyone else, because Mitchell isn't just a star by rookie standards—he's a star by any standard. The team's leading scorer, Mitchell has also quickly established himself as one of the league's most exciting playmakers and a leader on and off the court. Few, if any, young players look more like surefire superstars. He was far from his most efficient against Atlanta on 9-of-28 shooting, but still led the Jazz with 24 points. Next was PG Ricky Rubio, whose 23 points were far more than usual—although he did drop 30 on New Orleans a couple weeks back. Primarily a passer, Rubio's court vision has helped find lots of opportunities for Mitchell this season. C Rudy Gobert had 15 points, 16 rebounds, and two blocks. Utah's success this season with him on the floor—he missed some time with injury—has led many to believe he may have been their best player all along. SF Joe Ingles is probably the most underrated player in the NBA, and although the marksman struggled with 1-of-8 shooting from deep, he still finished with a great line of 16 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Also manning the wing for the Jazz are a couple of ex-Celtics in Fs Jonas Jerebko and Jae Crowder. Crowder, in particular, has been a solid fit since joining the team around the trade deadline.
Remember Duke PG Quinn Cook? He has spent the last few games as the Warriors' most important player on offense, which is a very strange reality. Starting in the place of Curry against the Kings last Friday, Cook dropped 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting. The next night, he was even better, leading his team to a victory with 28 points on 11-of-17 shooting against the Suns. He played 40 minutes in each game. While his playing time will decrease with the return of Steph (and then Klay), he may have earned himself a spot in Steve Kerr's rotation come playoff time. Draymond was also money in that Suns game with 25 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists with the Warriors' other three stars all sitting, but a pelvic injury suffered in San Antonio on Monday removed him, too, from the lineup. The Warriors floundered without their big four, finishing with only 75 points. Kerr went into a deep bench with only Cook (38 minutes) and SG Nick Young (40) playing more than 25 minutes. Young had 10 points on 2-for-10 shooting, reminding us all why he functions far better as a role player. SF Kevon Looney was great off the bench with 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting to go with eight rebounds and three steals. Other youngsters were less impressive, as PG Patrick McCaw and PF Jordan Bell combined to shoot 1-of-10 from the field. Bell played the most minutes of any Warriors' big with 23; C Zaza Pachulia played 14 as a starter, and reserves PF David West and C JaVale McGee played 13 and 12, respectively. SF Andre Iguodala took only six shots in 25 minutes despite being the most high-profile player left in the lineup.