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Teeth clenched and a hand on his right hip, Danté Exum ran off the court and headed to the locker room.
On his way by the bench, he passed an injured Raul Neto. Back in the training room, he would have seen Derrick Favors, Rodney Hood and George Hill.
The Utah Jazz are headed to the postseason. After a 106-87 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night, the Jazz may even have home-court advantage in the first round. But it seems like they are destined to get to the playoffs limping.
"I was hoping we had enough guys to finish the game," Jazz coach Quin Snyder quipped afterward.
Exum's injury came in the third quarter of what had been a fine performance for the point guard. The young Aussie had scored 10 points, grabbed three rebounds, and hung tough on the defensive end of the floor as he shadowed Portland star Damian Lillard. Exum's night, however, would end when Jazz center Rudy Gobert was pushed into his legs by a Portland defender while Exum elevated for what would have been a two-handed dunk. Exum crashed hard onto his hip and stayed in for Gobert's two free throws and one defensive possession before the pain forced him out.
It wouldn't cost them Tuesday. With three starters missing, Gobert and Gordon Hayward as they have all season shouldered the load. Hayward scored 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting and Gobert had 20 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
"I'm not sure people understand what those guys have gone through," Snyder said of his two stars. "Every day you wake up and you try to figure out who your teammate is going to be that day. … That kind of uncertainty is a really difficult thing to handle. Not only have they handled it, but they continue to excel."
Against the Blazers, Hayward and Gobert also got some big assists from the bench. Veteran forward Joe Johnson hit four 3-pointers over the final minutes of the third quarter and the first minutes of the fourth, and backup center Jeff Withey provided a 10-point spark, to help the Jazz build up a 20-point advantage.
"It's a next-man-up type mentality for us," Hayward said.
Jazzmen have combined to miss a whopping 154 games this season, forcing Snyder to use 22 different starting lineups to date.
"We didn't get lucky this year with the injuries, but everybody that came on the court stepped up and helped the team," Gobert said, "and that's why we've been able to stay consistent throughout the year."
It was enough to offset Portland's dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard (16 points on 5-of-20 shooting) and C.J. McCollum (25 points) and deal a blow to a Blazers team trying to sneak into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
But the Jazz's injuries still pose some serious questions. Utah is now 48-30 on the season, a game up on the fifth-place Clippers and 3.5 games up on the Thunder, with four contests left on its schedule. Seeding, home-court advantage and their playoff opponent are still uncertain.
More pressing, however, may be their health once the playoffs begin.
Exum was diagnosed with a right hip contusion and did not return to the game after his third-quarter exit, but afterward seemed upbeat about his chances to be ready for Friday's game against the Timberwolves. Meanwhile, Hood continues to deal with soreness in his knee. Hill has missed four straight games with a groin injury. And the Jazz have only said they are "hopeful" Favors (left knee bone contusion) can make his return in time for the postseason.
"The best thing for us to do is the guys that are able to play, play," Snyder said. "And the guys that aren't need to work their tails off to get to the point where they're able to play. Those are the only things we can control."
R Gordon Hayward hit the 30-point mark for the 12th time this season, the most by a Jazzman since Karl Malone did it 14 times in the 2001-02 season.
• The Jazz have held opponents under 90 points a league-leading 25 times. They are 21-4 in such games.