Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Jazz (03.18.17)
CHICAGO -- The Utah Jazz are on the verge of making their first playoff appearance in five years.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Bulls are in serious jeopardy of missing the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time since the Bill Cartwright coaching era. Chicago (32-37) will need to protect its home court with a win against Utah (43-26) -- and post a few more wins after that -- to avoid another disappointing playoff absence. The Bulls have lost seven of their past eight games, including three straight at home.
Saturday's game marks the second and final meeting of the regular season between the teams. The Bulls won the series opener 85-77 on Nov. 17 behind a team-high 20 points by forward Jimmy Butler. Center Robin Lopez registered a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds in the win.
Since that meeting, both teams' fortunes have shifted in opposite directions. The Jazz have won 36 of 56 games since Nov. 17 to clinch their first winning season since 2011-12. The Bulls have staggered to a 24-33 mark since beating the Jazz as coach Fred Hoiberg has tried to tinker with various starting lineups and rotations.
Forward Gordon Hayward leads the Jazz with 21.9 points a game to go along with 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists a game. Already an All-Star, Hayward has emerged as a candidate to make the All-NBA team. No player on the Jazz has earned that honor since Deron Williams seven years ago.
The timing would be perfect for Hayward, who is expected to opt out of his contract this summer and become an unrestricted free agent.
"It would be really cool to accomplish something like that," Hayward told the Salt Lake Tribune. "All-NBA is something I never thought I'd be able to achieve. But right now, my focus is on what I'm doing with the team. I'm trying to go out there and get wins."
More often than not, Hayward has succeeded at that goal. But the Jazz fell short 91-83 on Thursday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and they will try to avoid back-to-back losses Saturday in Chicago.
Jazz players Rodney Hood (right knee soreness) and Derrick Favors (left knee bruise) did not play against the Cavaliers, and their status is uncertain for Saturday. Hood is fourth on the team with an average of 13.1 points per game this season, and Favors is fifth with an average of 9.6 points to go along with 6.2 rebounds.
Chicago is no stranger to injuries, as well. Earlier this week, the team lost guard Dwyane Wade for the rest of the regular season because of a small fracture in his right elbow. Wade averaged 18.6 points a game, which trailed only Butler (23.2 points per game) for the team's scoring lead.
Minus Wade, Hoiberg rearranged his starting lineup Friday night in a 112-107 loss against the Washington Wizards. Forward Paul Zipser made his eighth start of the season and managed eight points in 28 minutes.
A sloppy first half doomed the Bulls, who fell behind by 19 points before staging a late rally.
"We were lazy and soft," Butler told reporters about the team's early effort.
Bulls guard Cameron Payne is expected to miss his third straight game because of a foot injury. Payne's absence has created more playing time for Rajon Rondo and Michael Carter-Williams at point guard.
Copyright 2017 by STATS/TSX. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS/TSX is strictly prohibited