Three losses in four games have left the Utah Jazz with little room for error in the NBA playoff race.
Utah is currently in seventh place in the Western Conference heading into Thursday night's home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Jazz are only 4 1/2 games ahead of Sacramento for that final playoff spot after beating the Phoenix Suns 114-97 on Wednesday night.
Utah looked stronger on offense against Phoenix after struggling in a 98-89 loss to Oklahoma City on Monday. The Jazz shot 46.7 percent from the field and also generated 30 assists on 42 baskets. Donovan Mitchell led the way with 26 points on 10-for-18 shooting.
One constant in both games was solid defensive play. Utah forced 12 turnovers and scored 23 points off turnovers against the Thunder. Then, against the Suns, the Jazz forced 12 turnovers that led to 19 points the other way.
"The offense will come," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after Monday's loss to the Thunder. "We just have to maintain a defensive mindset when it's a tough night offensively."
Minnesota is looking to bounce back after losing to Denver 133-107 on Tuesday, snapping a two-game winning streak. Karl-Anthony Towns had a monster effort after returning from a one-game absence. Towns scored 34 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and blocked three shots.
It wasn't enough to keep the Nuggets from pulling away midway through the fourth quarter. Defense failed Minnesota. Denver shot 60 percent from the field and hit 18 3-pointers. The Timberwolves ultimately couldn't overcome their shortened bench. Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose, Andrew Wiggins, Luol Deng and Robert Covington were all sidelined with injuries.
"I give our players a lot of credit. They're playing really hard," interim coach Ryan Saunders told the Star-Tribune after Tuesday's game. "With guys out, we have guys trying to step into those roles and sometimes it can get tough. When you step into other roles you might not be used to."
Towns will likely be a critical factor again against Utah on Thursday to counteract the Jazz big man duo of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. In his past eight games, Towns has dominated on offense. He has posted 35 points and 13.6 rebounds per game in that stretch while shooting 59.2 percent from the field and 47.2 percent from the 3-point line.
Stopping Towns has been a problem for Utah this season. He is averaging 27.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game against the Jazz while shooting 58.7 percent from the field and 50 percent from the 3-point line.
The Jazz have won two of three meetings between the two teams this season. Utah earned both victories over a three-day stretch in late January, beating the Timberwolves 106-102 on Jan. 25 and 125-111 two nights later.
Mitchell and Gobert have performed well in the series. Gobert has averaged 19.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.7 blocks against Minnesota. Mitchell has posted 26.3 points and 7.0 assists per contest.