SALT LAKE CITY — Piecing together a healthy lineup hasn’t been a simple task for Utah at times this season. Still, the Jazz are not letting the injury bug derail them from experiencing success as the NBA playoffs approach.
Utah (48-30) has won seven straight home games going into Friday’s matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Minnesota was the last team to take down the Jazz in Salt Lake City. The Timberwolves dealt Utah a 107-80 loss on March 1. Minnesota led by as many as 30 points and coasted to a win behind 21 points and 15 rebounds from Karl-Anthony Towns.
It has been a much different story for the Jazz at home since that time. Utah is staying on track in the battle with the Los Angeles Clippers for a top-four playoff seed and home-court advantage. The Jazz own a half-game lead over the Clippers after picking up a 106-87 victory over Portland on Wednesday.
Utah played without three of its usual starters, but pulled away from the Trail Blazers late in the third quarter. Gordon Hayward scored 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting, and Rudy Gobert chipped in 20 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
“It’s a ‘next man up’ type of mentality for us,” Hayward said. “We have a great system, great coaching staff, and they give us an excellent game plan.”
Hayward and Gobert have steadied the team amid injuries. But they are also getting plenty of help from the bench. Utah’s reserves totaled 44 points against Portland — highlighted by a season-high 10 points from center Jeff Withey.
Coaxing strong performances from the second unit in times of need has become a trend for the Jazz.
“Guys got to step up and make plays, and that’s what it’s about,” guard/forward Joe Johnson said. “When you have guys out, man, we’ve got guys on the bench who can play and who’ve proven themselves in the league. So we just come in, play relaxed and have fun.”
Minnesota (31-46) isn’t in the playoff picture at this point. That hasn’t stopped the Timberwolves from trying to be a spoiler for other Western Conference teams.
Portland offers the best evidence of the damage Minnesota is doing down the stretch. The Timberwolves split two meetings with the Blazers this week. They edged them 110-109 at home on Monday and then fell 105-98 in Oregon on Thursday, leaving Portland 1 1/2 games up on Denver for the final playoff spot in the West.
“Regardless of what our record is, we’ve got to go out there and play basketball the right way,” Towns said after Monday’s win over the Blazers. “Every game, every second, every practice, every workout is valuable to building a championship team, and that’s how we need to look at it.”
The Blazers trailed by as many as 15 points before rallying for the win Thursday. Andrew Wiggins scored 36 points while Towns added 24 points and 16 rebounds. It wasn’t enough to help Minnesota overcome a dismal fourth quarter in which it totaled only 11 points.
The Timberwolves will be looking to reverse a two-game skid when they face Utah. Minnesota also lost to Golden State 121-107 on Tuesday night.