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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Utah Jazz

Before heading off for the Rodeo Road Trip, the hobbled Spurs look to close their homestand on a high against an equally-depleted Utah Jazz.

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

The 2017 offseason began with an auspicious start for the Utah Jazz. On draft night, they acquired Donovan Mitchell from Denver in exchange for pennies on the dollar (Trey Lyles and the 24th pick). Just eight days later, the Jazz traded for the criminally underrated Ricky Rubio. Utah won an impressive 51 games last season, and yet everyone knew this year’s squad would be even scarier with these new reinforcements.

San Antonio Spurs (34-20) vs. Utah Jazz (22-28)

February 3, 2018 | 8:00 pm CDT

Watch: KENS; Listen: 1200 AM WOAI

Spurs injuries: Rudy Gay (heel), Kawhi Leonard (injury management)

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

We all know the tragic story that followed. After Gordon Hayward signed with Boston, the Jazz were forced into the terribly uncomfortable decision of whether to tank or compete for a lower seed in the playoffs. They have opted for somewhere in between, a brutal mediocrity that is made watchable solely because of their up-and-coming core. But as fun as Utah can be, they are hampered by...

Injuries, injuries, injuries

I assume you’re aware how dire the injury situation has been for the Spurs this year. It hasn’t been much better for Utah:

Rodney Hood has missed several games with a leg injury. Joe Johnson’s wrist has kept him out for extended time. Rudy Gobert has missed more than half of the games this season. Dante Exum hasn’t played a minute. These are all starters or key rotation players.

The Spurs can afford to have players take time to recover because they have role players who are capable of filling in big roles in the short term. The Jazz don’t have the same luxury: their roster runs only seven or eight deep when healthy.

This lack of depth has forced head coach Quin Snyder into playing some ineffective, unorthodox rotations. But that isn’t to say that his conventional lineups have panned out either; their second-most used lineup (and likely their best) of Favors, Gobert, Ingles, Mitchell and Rubio is a net -20.4 points per 100 possessions this season. A large part of that appalling number can be attributed to

Ricky Rubio, a failed experiment

Aside from Donovan Mitchell’s unprecedented rise, this season has been one of disappointment for the Utah Jazz. Nothing exemplifies this better than Ricky Rubio. The Spaniard gained somewhat of a cult following during his time with Minnesota because of his surprisingly proficient defense and stellar offensive production. Many – including myself – speculated that he would mesh terrifically with the Jazz, Gobert in particular.

Yeah, well… I was wrong. Rubio has proven to be pretty disastrous on both ends of the floor. On offense, his jumper is as bad as ever (29% from three), yet he’s taking a career-high 3.5 attempts per game from deep. He’s also assisting at a rate well below his career average (4.8 apg this year, 8.0 in his career) despite similar playing time.

The drop-off in his defensive production has been even more precipitous. Opponents are shooting 6.2% better than normal this season when guarded by Rubio, including 11.4% from three. His poor shot-checking is a major factor in Utah’s league-worst opponent 3-point percentage.

Overall, the Jazz are a full 9.4 points per 100 possessions better with Rubio off the court than on. He was never a net-negative for any season during his entire tenure with the Wolves. The Rubio experiment has been a disastrous failure for the Jazz, and they should try to cut bait as soon as possible since a ‘good market’ may be available.

Expect the result to be decided well before the fourth

The Jazz have one of the strangest win-loss splits I’ve ever seen. Their point differential in wins is +14.9. In losses, it’s -12.5. All of their offensive and defensive numbers plummet in losses. Is the success of their offense so interconnected with the success of their defense that when one falters the other follows suit? I honestly don’t know what to think, but make sure to look out for it tonight.

Matchup to watch: Dejounte Murray vs. Donovan Mitchell. What a revelation Mitchell has been. Most pundits saw this pick as a steal from the start, but no one expected this sort of production from the Louisville guard this early into his career. The man eclipsed the 40-point mark just 23 games into his career! His success appears sustainable and he’ll be a star sooner than later. Our own young phenom in Murray will likely match up with him. Let’s see if he’s up to the task.

Vegas line: Spurs by 6.

Game prediction: Spurs by 5.

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.