Ricky Rubio took a tough hit during the Utah Jazz’s loss against the Sixers on Thursday and missed the team’s subsequent game against the Knicks. Leading up to the injury, the 2009 draftee from Spain was averaging 12.7 points per game, 6.3 assists, and he’s an invaluable part of the Jazz’s backcourt.
Without him in the lineup on Saturday, though, the Jazz were more than alright. The team had an impressive bounce-back performance, defeating the 9-28 Knicks 129-97. Dante Exum embraced his first start of the season and achieved a double-double: 13 points and 13 assists–many of them gorgeous lobs to center Rudy Gobert, who scored 25.
The Raptors Will Present a Challenge for an Inconsistent Jazz Team
Since the Jazz’s underdog playoff run last season, the team has had a hard time reaching their former glory and remaining consistent. They came into the season expecting to occupy a top spot in the Western Conference (and gave the Houston Rockets a run for their money in the second round) but quickly fell short after a series of inexplicable losses.
Currently at 11th place in the Western Conference (a significant improvement considering their recent hovering near the very bottom of the standings), every coming game will only increase in importance for this Utah team as they try to salvage their playoff hopes.
The Raptors, though, will present a major challenge in the Jazz’s journey toward the playoffs tonight. They’ve been nearly unstoppable since acquiring Kawhi Leonard in the offseason, and they have the best record in the league despite being 2nd in the Eastern Conference. Only recently supplanted by the Milwaukee Bucks for that top spot, the Raptors have maybe surpassed the ever-dominant Warriors as the team to beat this season. Unlike the Warriors, they’ve been relatively drama-free and consistent, making them a top contender for the title. It’ll be surprising not to see this team in the NBA Finals, and they’ll probably be facing the Warriors themselves.
That’s an intimidating fact for this struggling Jazz team to face as they head into the matchup tonight, but the Raptors are far from unbeatable. In fact, they’ve lost 6 of their last 12 matchups–a significant number, considering they’ve only lost 11 games total this season.
That being said, here’s what the Jazz will be working with if Rubio remains out for this vital matchup.
Utah Jazz Starting Lineup Against the Raptors, Without Ricky Rubio
PG: Dante Exum
SG: Donovan Mitchell
SF: Joe Ingles
PF: Derrick Favors
C: Rudy Gobert
The Jazz typically favor a two-man frontcourt led by reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and supported by Derrick Favors. Dante Exum is expected to once again get the starting nod in place of Rubio–he’s on fire lately and scored an impressive double-double in the Jazz’s dominant win over the Knicks on Saturday.
Key, of course, will be shutting down Kawhi Leonard. He’s been the spark that has ignited this Toronto team and averages 26.7 points per game–he had 27 against the Bulls on Sunday.
In the Jazz’s favor is the fact that Raptor’s point guard Kyle Lowry is currently day-to-day with a back injury. He’s missed the team’s last three games in a row, and four in a row before that after playing a single game against the 76ers. His absence is a factor in the Raptors’ recently-dropped games and close wins over teams they should be blowing out.
For the Jazz, Lowry’s absence bodes well for both their short-term and long-term success.