Pacers visit Utah looking to extend Jazz's slump
SALT LAKE CITY -- Time is running out for Utah to turn things around and make a playoff push.
Midway through the season, the Jazz are in a free fall heading into a home matchup with the Indiana Pacers on Monday night.
Utah has lost 14 of its last 18 games. The Jazz have fallen out of the playoff picture for the moment, with 4 1/2 games currently separating them from the eighth-place Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference.
Utah (17-25) isn't about to throw in the towel, though. Rookie guard Donovan Mitchell thinks the Jazz are figuring out through adversity what it will take to win during the second half of the regular season.
"We're one hot streak away from being right back where we were," Mitchell said. "It's been tough with the injuries and the schedule. In the same light, we looked at that and we made adjustments. Playing the whole month of the December, we realized where we are as a team and who we are."
Things grew a little tougher for Utah with another key rotation player lost to a major injury. Thabo Sefolosha is likely done for the season after suffering an MCL injury in the second quarter of a 99-88 loss to Charlotte on Friday night.
Rudy Gobert has already missed 13 straight games with a knee injury and Raul Neto has missed 15 consecutive games with a knee injury. Both players practiced Sunday, but aren't expected to play against the Pacers.
Sefolosha was averaging 8.2 points and 4.2 rebounds off the bench for Utah before his injury. He had seen significant minutes at power forward, where he gave the Jazz a boost with his length on defense.
For now, Utah will likely split time between veteran Joe Johnson and Jonas Jerebko until Gobert returns.
"Obviously, we've had multiple guys at that position and played different lineups and different looks," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "We'll see how that evolves when we get Rudy get back."
The Pacers (23-20) will offer the Jazz a stiff defensive test just by virtue of having Victor Oladipo at their disposal. Oladipo is a leading candidate to win the Most Improved Player Award because of how much he has blossomed as an offensive threat this season.
Indiana has won four of its last five games since Oladipo returned to the lineup, including a 120-97 win over Phoenix on Sunday. The Pacers, on the other hand, lost four straight games while he was sidelined with a knee injury.
When Oladipo is on the court, he gives Indiana's offense a trigger man who can get things done. He averaged 28.5 points on 51 percent shooting in December.
Since his return, Oladipo has chipped in 20.0 points per game on 50 percent shooting in the last five games.
The fifth-year guard helped key a 97-95 comeback win over Cleveland on Friday after sinking a go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:10 remaining in the fourth quarter.
"I've got confidence in myself in any situation that ever can happen or I could possibly be in," Oladipo said after the win over the Cavaliers. "At the end of the day, I put in the work and I work hard."
Utah has won two straight home games in the series with Indiana. The teams split the series last season, each winning on their home court.