The Milwaukee Bucks have made waves this season as MVP-hopeful Giannis Antetokounmpo has led them to the second-best record in the NBA. At 27-11, they’re second only to the Toronto Raptors’ 30-12 record heading into the playoff crunch. The Utah Jazz haven’t been so lucky. At the midpoint of the season, the same team who had high hopes after a solid playoff run last year is down in the dumps and barely at .500. They’re looking for their third win in a row, but it’ll have to be hard-fought against this dominant Bucks team.
The Jazz will be missing backup point guard Dante Exum and veteran guard Thabo Sefolosha–both of whom left the team’s previous game against the Pistons with injuries–leaving them a bit shorthanded as they attempt to claw their way to a playoff spot. They’re currently 9th in the Western Conference–much lower than anyone expected, considering the successful previous season they were thought to be building upon–and are looking for wins anywhere they can get them.
In their favor is the fact that their entire starting lineup is intact, and key backcourt player Jae Crowder is back from injury (and put up 30 in the narrow loss against the Raptors on New Year’s Day).
Dante Exum has been hitting his stride lately, and the Jazz will be hoping that the ankle injury sustained against the Pistons doesn’t set him back too far. He averages 7.4 points per game, and after battling several setbacks throughout his four-year career had finally been putting up the numbers he’d always been expected to produce: he had 20 against the 76ers on December 27th, and was averaging 13 points per game since then–only to be derailed by the injury just 8 minutes into the Pistons matchup.
Though things have been looking bleak for the Jazz–they’re currently 20-20 after their two recent back-to-back wins–they shouldn’t count themselves out yet. At this point last season they were again struggling for a playoff spot, but last year they were without Rudy Gobert. Gobert’s return saw them have a massive run that ultimately led them to the second round of the playoff race, where they fell narrowly to the Houston Rockets. So things could turn around for the Jazz, but only if they act soon.
Tonight’s game will be a clear test of what they’re made of, and if they have that same tenacity that pulled them out of last year’s slump. Here’s the lineup they’ll be working with against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Utah Jazz Starting Lineup Against the Bucks
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Donovan Mitchell
SF: Joe Ingles
PF: Derrick Favors
C: Rudy Gobert
Though his season’s been up and down after making a strong case for Rookie of the Year last season, Donovan Mitchell seems to be gaining control of his consistency and locking in as the league barrels toward playoff time. He’s averaging 20.2 points per game and scored 26 in Saturday’s win against the Pistons. Also struggling with his consistency has been key shooting guard Joe Ingles, who is only averaging 11.8 at this point. He put up 16 points on Saturday, but the Jazz will need much more from him if they’re to defeat this Bucks team.
In the frontcourt as always is the tandem of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, each of whom is a dominant force in the paint. Gobert is averaging 14.8 points per game and 12.2 rebounds, along with an impressive 2 blocks per game. Derrick Favors contributes 11.2 points per game and grabs 7 rebounds of his own on an average night.
Consistency is the name of the game for this Jazz team, and it’s been their achilles heel so far. If the team’s starters can get up their expected numbers, and if the bench can fill in the gaps left by Exum and Sefolosha, this game against the Bucks is winnable.