SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz are putting their “next man up” mentality to the test.
For at least the next little while, the Jazz will be without their top three point guards because of injuries. Already without starter Ricky Rubio and primary backup Dante Exum — both of whom were injured at Milwaukee on Monday — Utah announced that No. 3 point guard Raul Neto has been sidelined indefinitely.
That means the Jazz will slide Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles into the point guard position at times — along with some other variations — tonight in their ESPN-televised showdown with the Lakers.
Neto started in place of Rubio and Exum in Wednesday’s win over Orlando but suffered the injury in that game.
The Jazz’s injury list is almost as big as the available roster. Rubio (right groin strain), Exum (left ankle sprain), Neto (left groin strain), Thabo Sefolosha (right groin strain), Grayson Allen (right ankle sprain) and Tony Bradley (right knee surgery) are all officially out against L.A.
The Lakers, meanwhile, will play without the ailing LeBron James and Rajon Rondo.
Mitchell has played point guard in the past, but he admitted his role will be “a lot” different. The healthy survivors will just have to play smarter and more cohesively as they deal with the injury bug, including in this weekend home back-to-back vs. the Lakers and Bulls (Saturday, 8 p.m.).
“I think this team has been big with the ‘next man up’ since last year, since I got here,” Mitchell said. “This is just another circumstance or instance for us to continue to push.”
Mitchell pointed out that the Jazz will need stronger communication and to be “even sharper defensively” to compensate. He believes the offense will be fine, adding that Utah needs to “play free,” be aggressive, take open shots and not over-think the situation.
“Defensively,” he added, “we’ve got to be locked in and focused because they’re a good team.”
The Lakers (23-19) are two games ahead of the Jazz (21-21) for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
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