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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Utah Jazz

The LaMarcus-less Spurs head to Salt Lake City to face the Jazz, who have won both meetings this season by an average of 10 points.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The hottest team in the NBA isn’t the Rockets or Warriors — it’s the tenth-seeded Utah Jazz, winners of nine straight — one of which came in San Antonio less than two weeks ago.

The Jazz have turned what was looking like a seven-team battle for the final six playoff spots into an eight-team affair, combining some uncharacteristically explosive offensive performances with the kind of smart, unselfish basketball we’ve come to expect from a Quin Snyder-coached team. While Houston and Golden State (13 losses each) have distanced themselves from the pack, the margin of error continues to get slimmer for the final six spots, with just six losses separating third and tenth place.

Of course, the very reason the Spurs are in that second tier and not closer to the first tier is why it’s hard to predict what tonight’s outcome will be: injuries and inconsistency. If the Spurs can come out strong in the first quarter — as they have in both of their games on this road trip — and hit some shots from beyond the arc, I like their chances. But since neither is a given, and since Utah is playing as well as anyone right now, and because the Spurs could be especially short-handed tonight, a Jazz win feels a bit more likely.

San Antonio Spurs (35-22) at Utah Jazz (28-28)

February 12, 2018 | 8:00 pm CDT

Watch: FSSW; Listen: 1200 AM WOAI

Spurs injuries: Rudy Gay (heel), Kawhi Leonard (injury management), Dejounte Murray (ankle), Tony Parker (back), LaMarcus Aldridge (knee)

Jazz injuries: Dante Exum (shoulder), Thabo Sefolosha (knee), Ricky Rubio (hip)

LaMarcus out

The Spurs announced on Sunday that their leading scorer and lone All-Star will miss tonight’s game with a sore right knee. Whether it’s just to preserve him for Tuesday’s SEGABABA in Denver or something more serious, it will make a win tonight all the more difficult.

If Dejounte Murray’s ankle keeps him out for another one (he was listed as questionable in the Spurs’ injury report) it would mean another new starting lineup combination for the Good Guys.

Hood and Iso Joe out; Crowder in

The Jazz will look a bit different on the wing after sending away Rodney Hood and Joe Johnson at the trade deadline. In their place is former Cavalier and Celtic Jae Crowder, who adds a bit more defensive switchability. Crowder didn’t quite work out in Cleveland, but Utah with less of an urgent timeline to contend could be a good landing spot for a guy who was once one of the most coveted contracts in the NBA.

Rubio’s hot stretch

If you’ve followed Ricky Rubio’s play as of late, you’d see that his career night in San Antonio last week was anything but an outlier. His numbers since January 30th: 21 points, 54.3% FG, 55.6% 3PT, 8.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds.

Rubio got dinged up recently, and his status will be something to monitor approaching tipoff. The Jazz have a number of capable passers, but they would miss the high-level vision that Rubio possesses.

Donovan Mitchell tho

The rookie guard isn’t just one of the most exciting young players in the league -- he’s also way ahead of the curve in terms of poise and decision-making, and he’s made the offseason loss of Gordon Hayward a bit more palatable in Utah.

Mitchell has missed the first two meetings against the Spurs, and his clean bill of health should put an additional strain on San Antonio’s perimeter defense. He attempts over six threes a game and is elusive enough to get to the rim with ease. It’ll be fun watching the Spurs’ typically disciplined defense trying to stay in front of him.

Vegas line: Jazz by 4.5.

Game prediction: Jazz by 6.

For the Jazz fans’ perspective, visit SLC Dunk.

As always Tony must dominate Fisher.

PtR’s GameThread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.