Shorthanded Minnesota faces tall task against streaking Jazz

Sports

The Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves are about to spend more holiday time together.

A week after playing in Utah just before Christmas, the Jazz will again host the Timberwolves on Friday night in Salt Lake City, hours before ringing in the new year.

This won’t be a typical Jazz-Timberwolves matchup. Minnesota is missing multiple top players who are in the NBA’s health and safety protocol, including Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Jarred Vanderbilt. Anthony Edwards and Taurean Prince are considered day-to-day after clearing protocol.

And though the Jazz are the only team to not miss any player time due to COVID-19 this season, they played without Donovan Mitchell the past two games because of a back injury.

Even without Mitchell, the Jazz have continued their winning ways. They’re on a five-game winning streak, which includes a 128-116 victory over Minnesota on Dec. 23 in Utah.

Malik Beasley was a beast for the T-Wolves in that game, scoring 33 points, while the Jazz got their usual All-Star-level performances from Mitchell (28 points, seven assists, five rebounds) and Rudy Gobert (20 points, 17 rebounds, four blocks).

The T-Wolves were missing seven players for that contest.

“Everybody came in and played with a lot of heart and generated a lot of good shots. Some went in, some didn’t,” Minnesota coach Chris Finch said that night. “We fought back whenever we got down, so (I’m) very pleased with the effort.”

Jazz coach Quin Snyder was content with how his team handled the shorthanded but athletic and energetic Timberwolves in that one.

“There have been times when a team is really aggressive against us defensively, that we haven’t responded on a level that I think we want to see,” Snyder said. “(That night), our guys all responded.”

Though Utah hasn’t lost since then, beating Dallas, San Antonio and Portland, Snyder wasn’t nearly as satisfied with his team’s performance in a 120-105 road win over the Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.

“I was disappointed, really, throughout the first three quarters,” he said. “We’d build a lead and then we’d let up a little bit. We didn’t extend it. … Part of it for me is, I just look at our demeanor and there isn’t an urgency in those moments that I know our team has.”

Minnesota comes into this Northwest Division showdown having lost three of four, including the setback in Utah. The Timberwolves missed 31 of 38 3-point attempts in their 96-88 home loss to the New York Knicks on Tuesday. That came a night after upsetting the Boston Celtics despite the depleted lineup.

“It was an off night. We had all the great looks we absolutely wanted,” Finch said of his team shooting a season-low 18.4 percent from beyond the arc. “Of those 38 shots, I’d say 30 of them were high quality by our best shooters.”

The Jazz won’t have any time to party over the holiday weekend. They host Golden State on New Year’s Day. The Timberwolves will continue their road trip in Los Angeles, playing the Lakers on Sunday and the Clippers on Monday.

–Field Level Media

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