HOUSTON — Sustainable success in the NBA can be capricious, with unforeseen injuries capable of destroying momentum as quickly as a string of impressive victories can foster it.
On Dec. 5, the Utah Jazz played at Oklahoma City in the second game of a back-to-back set. At the time, the Jazz were riding a six-game winning streak and garnering modest attention as a surprise challenger in the Western Conference.
On Friday night in Boston, the Jazz added two more bodies to a bloated injury list, and the following evening, they lost for the fifth time in six games, falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Just that quickly, progress stalled for the Utah, which will continue a six-game road trip against the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Toyota Center. In a 109-100 loss at Cleveland, the Jazz (14-16) played without center Rudy Gobert and forward Derrick Favors.
Gobert could miss a month with a left posterior cruciate ligament sprain.
Favors sustained a left eye laceration later in the same game in which Gobert was lost. Favors aimed to play against the Cavaliers but started to show concussion symptoms. He wound up in the concussion protocol, and he will be sidelined indefinitely.
Already without reserve guard Raul Neto (concussion), the Jazz shoehorned Joe Johnson and Ekpe Udoh in their starting lineup and Thabo Sefolosha (general soreness) into their rotation earlier than planned. The deck was stacked against them in Cleveland, and despite another standout performance from rookie guard Donovan Mitchell, expectations were muted.
“We did compete,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder told the Salt Lake Tribune. “I thought, overall, we did a good job of trying to hang in there.”
Mitchell leads all rookies in scoring at 18.1 points per game and is averaging 25.8 points (on 49.4 percent shooting), 2.9 rebounds and four assists per game this month. His ascent has dovetailed with Utah losing bodies, and he again will serve as a focal point against the Rockets.
Houston (24-4) managed its own measure of adversity on Saturday night, outlasting the Milwaukee Bucks 115-111 despite playing without starting center Clint Capela and reserve forward Luc Mbah a Moute, and with All-NBA guard James Harden hobbled by right knee discomfort.
The Rockets extended their winning streak to 13 games and improved to 14-0 with guard Chris Paul in the lineup. Their 3-point shooting abandoned them against the Bucks, but their aggression did not. Houston attempted a season-high-tying 42 free throws and converted 34.
The Rockets defeated the San Antonio Spurs 124-109 on Friday night in a game considered by some a referendum on their early-season success. Winning the following night proved challenging.
“The biggest thing was we just didn’t have our best stuff,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Emotionally … whatever. Pretty quick turnaround, just go on and on and on, missing Clint, but we found a way. It was one of those typical grind games, just got to find a way somehow.”
Harden acknowledged limitations due to the knee pain and considered sitting out Saturday. He did not, and he tallied a game-high 31 points, then looked forward to being available again for his short-handed team.
“You got to ice it, take care of it,” Harden said. “I’ll come in and get treatment (on Sunday), be ready to go for Monday.”
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