The Utah Jazz weren't exactly whole on Monday when they throttled the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers, but compared to the rotation they utilized while losing to the Lakers two nights earlier, the Jazz better resembled the squad with the best record in the NBA.
Even without its best player,Donovan Mitchell, out with a sprained ankle as he has been since Friday, Utah is formidable. Additionally strip away Mike Conley, Rudy Gobert, and Derrick Favors, and the Jazz are significantly less potent, which was apparent Saturday when Utah lost to the Lakers in overtime as coach Quin Snyder rested those three players.
Next, Utah will visit the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, with an eye on preparing for an extended run of the gauntlet that is the NBA postseason.
"That's just a level of awareness that we have to look at the schedule," said Snyder, who rested Conley, Gobert, and Favors on Saturday less than 24 hours after the Jazz had beaten the Indiana Pacers in Salt Lake City. They were playing in their fourth game in six nights.
"Obviously back-to-backs are a situation that you can anticipate that you need to think about, which we already have done. As the season progresses it's going to be something that we continue to be mindful of but not necessarily plan on doing something on a given day.
"It's certainly something, our team being fresh, that we're focused on the same way playing good defense and executing. It helps to be fresh to get a good barometer or where your team is, just like it helps to play in a close game against a good team to get that kind of feedback, too."
By resting those three key players with Mitchell already sidelined, the Jazz rolled the dice on losing the first game of two in succession against the Lakers. But with just one back-to-back left on the schedule, it was a shot worth taking for a team that is trying to secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs while simultaneously protecting the players key to that goal.
"We'd all agree every game is important," Snyder said. "You get different things out of different games The past few games whether it be a back-to-back learning to fight through fatigue (or) when you don't shoot well seeing different game plans, every game has its own challenges. If you're trying to speculate on seeding and things like that, to me the most important thing for us is to continue to get better and try to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year."
Houston cratered in the second half of its 113-91 road loss to the Miami Heat on Monday, nearly surrendering as many points in the third quarter (35) as it scored following the intermission (36).
The Rockets are 4-33 since an early-February victory over the Memphis Grizzlies lifted them a game over .500. Since then it's been one calamity after another, with the latest sobering news breaking Monday when it was revealed that guard Sterling Brown was the victim of an assault.
"One after another it's just always something," Rockets center Christian Wood said. "It's been a long, trying season so we just have to stay positive, keep your head up and control what you can control."
--Field Level Media