Cloud in Jazz horizon: An injury bug that spreads

Cloud in Jazz horizon: An injury bug that spreads

SALT LAKE CITY — Smack in the middle of the Western Conference standings, things are as crowded as a subway stop. Portland is back this year, its 24-karat backcourt in tow. More than ever, Russell Westbrook is abusing the rim in Oklahoma City. Even the Los Angeles Lakers are starting to shake off the hangover of last year’s Kobethon.

All were tied with the Jazz for fourth place in the Western Conference standings, going into Thursday’s games. A half-game behind, more malice awaited. Memphis can still make music in the streets. In Houston, James Harden is putting up MVP numbers. Already the playoff teams seem set, though Minnesota has enough talent not to be counted out.

Nine or 10 teams will contend for eight spots in April.

The Jazz are off to a nice start, but the hordes are at the gates.

Nobody is disputing this Jazz team is playoff-built. Before Thursday’s game at Vivint Arena against Chicago, they had played 12 games, but just four at home. Yet they were a presentable 7-5.

Some years they would have been reaching to get three wins out of a schedule like that. Yet not all is perfect in Salt Lake. Who will be healthy when the postseason pairings arrive? Surely coach Quin Snyder. But maybe not even him.

The latest uppercut came in the form of a news release, Wednesday afternoon, announcing Derrick Favors has a bone contusion on his left knee.

“He will continue to receive treatment, and in order to allow the injury proper time to heal, will not play Thursday vs. Chicago and his status will continue to be reevaluated moving forward,” the release said.

Then came the follow-up: “Further updates will be provided when appropriate.”

Is that ominous or what? Proper time to heal? When appropriate?

That doesn’t sound like he’ll be fine tomorrow.

With first-rate doctors, the wait will surely be shortened, but it’s not a sure thing, regardless. Favors missed 20 games last year, due to back spasms and knee problems, and has missed two games this year.

“I don’t want to speak out of turn,” said Snyder, “but we’re at the point where we feel — and he feels — this is the best course of action.”

Even when it amounts to inaction on the court.

The Jazz can be one of the better teams in the Western Conference, barring major injuries, but so far they can’t shake them. Their 33 player-games missed through Wednesday were second-most in the league.

Injuries were the curse of last season, when Rudy Gobert missed 21 games with a sprained ACL. Dante Exum missed the whole season and Alec Burks 51 games. While Exum is doing fine this year — he had six quick points against the Bulls, music to Snyder’s ears — Burks is out on ankle rehab. Gordon Hayward missed the first six games this season with a broken finger. He came out of a dunk in the third quarter on Thursday, shaking and grabbing his left hand — the one he previously injured.

Rodney Hood was absent one game due to “illness.” George Hill has missed six games with a sprained thumb. Boris Diaw was out eight games with a bone contusion, before returning Thursday to launch the Jazz’s first three shots.

Gnawing at the edges is the realization that there have been no major injuries, unless you count the Burks business. But there has been a steady flow of fender benders.

This is far from the old days when the Jazz and Chicago met in the NBA Finals. Thursday’s game evoked memories of players who seldom sat out. Karl Malone missed nine games in his entire Jazz career, several due to suspensions. John Stockton and Michael Jordan?

Lace ‘em up nightly.

Whether that’s luck or old-fashioned guts is debatable. But this much is certain: Today’s players don’t usually take chances. With $100 million contracts, they’re precious cargo.

So on go the Jazz, their hopes high, but their health irregular. They are better prepared than ever, depth-wise. But in their hearts, they know their good start could fade. They have used their preferred starting lineup of Hill, Hood, Hayward, Favors and Gobert just once.

Even though the Jazz should make the playoffs, it could get dicey. Maybe a rotation of healthy bodies will be enough. Realistically, it will be hard if any long absences occur. But if you want to know how the Jazz will be doing in April, check the standings then. Better yet, check the hospital.

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Published at Sun, 20 Nov 2016 17:38:00 +0000