Portland, Ore. • While the absence of former starters Raja Bell and Josh Howard has allowed coach Tyrone Corbin to lock in his revamped first unit during the last eight games, the Jazz's bench has recently looked thin.
Athletic wings Gordon Hayward and C.J. Miles are taking the court at tipoff, and Corbin has been left to draw from a mix-and-match collection of veterans, rookies, role players and castoffs in the attempt to keep Utah moving forward. The path has seldom been smooth, and the Jazz's watered-down bench was exposed Saturday during a 105-96 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Alec Burks, Derrick Favors and Earl Watson combined to shoot just 3-for-13, while DeMarre Carroll (0-for-3, one point) continued to struggle. Rookie center Enes Kanter's seven points on 3-of-3 shooting and four rebounds was Utah's lone second-unit highlight, but he only received 11 minutes and 10 seconds of action.
Burks has shown the ability to shine. But he's an inexperienced 20-year-old rookie, shooting 43.5 percent from the floor and 29 percent behind the 3-point line. Backup point guard Earl Watson isn't an offensive threat; Favors and Kanter are promising but inconsistent; Carroll has yet to prove himself; Jeremy Evans rarely takes the court; and Jamaal Tinsley hasn't played since Watson returned from injury.
Elite NBA teams have spent the entire season fine-tuning their second unit. Utah's is again a work-in-progress, and the Jazz's reserves only have 13 games left to find rhythm.
"We play young guys in different situations, and it's a lot of pressure on them, because they don't have the experience to fall back on," Corbin said.
Utah center Al Jefferson continues to move closer to a 20-point average. He recorded a co-game-high 26 against the Clippers, and is averaging 23.6 on 52.4 percent shooting during his last five contests.
Jefferson's 19.6 average trails only Dwight Howard among centers, and it's the best mark Big Al's recorded since he posted 23.1 for Minnesota during 2008-09 the year Jefferson tore his right anterior cruciate ligament.
Despite losing four of five and falling 11/2 games behind Denver and Houston for the eighth seed in the Western Conference entering Sunday's NBA schedule, the Jazz still have reason for optimism.
Seven of Utah's final 13 games are at home, where the Jazz are 19-7. In addition, Utah's next three opponents have losing records.
The Jazz will have to regain direction quick, though. Utah still plays San Antonio twice, a three-game trip awaits, and six of the Jazz's final 10 games are against above .500 teams.
Jazz at Trail Blazers
At Rose Garden; Portland, Ore.
Tipoff • 8 p.m., Monday
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM
Records • Jazz 27-26, Blazers 24-28
Last meeting • Jazz, 93-89 (Jan. 30)
About the Jazz • Utah plays Portland three times during the next 25 days. … After winning six consecutive games from March 15-23, the Jazz have only beaten the 19-win New Jersey Nets since the streak ended. … Utah played 19 games in March, going 11-8. … The Jazz could practice three times this week, a rarity during the lockout-shortened season.
About the Blazers • Ex-Jazz guard Wesley Matthews is averaging 12.7 points on 40.9 percent shooting. … Forward LaMarcus Aldridge (elbow) didn't play Friday during a road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. … Newly signed reserve forward J.J. Hickson scored 29 points and grabbed 13 rebounds against Los Angeles.