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Bucks vs. Jazz Preview: Slumping Bucks finish road trip in Utah against Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert and comany

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Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Losers of four in a row, the Milwaukee Bucks are a team in desperate need of a pick-me-up. Instead, they get a hot date on Friday night in Utah, a state where they've lost 13 straight games dating back to 2001.

Bucks Update

The Bucks' loss in Portland on Wednesday looked a lot like their loss in Sacramento on Tuesday...which looked a lot like all their other losses over the past couple months: three quarters or so of pretty competitive basketball, punctuated by a limping finish in which the opponent hits a bunch of game-clinching threes that the Bucks can't recover from. Fifty-one games into the season it seems clear the Bucks aren't on the verge of magically flipping any switches on the defensive end, and with five teams and seven games between them and the eighth seed it's almost impossible to see a way for them into the playoff hunt either.

MORE: Diagnosing the Bucks' defensive struggles

All of which is a big reason why there's so much trade chatter about Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams; there's no guarantees either or both are dealt before the February 18 deadline, but it's tough to fault the Bucks for considering all their options given the hole they've dug for themselves so far this season. On the plus side: Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo continue to make meaningful strides, while Bucks fans can at least hold out hope that Jabari Parker will begin to impose his offensive will (and some vague sense of defensive awareness) as he continues to gain his NBA bearings. As for everyone else...well, who knows.

On the injury front, there's unfortunately no news to report: John Henson (back), O.J. Mayo (hamstring) and Greivis Vasquez (ankle) remain out with assorted injuries, though you'd hope that Milwaukee might get some better news when they return home for a three-game homestand starting on Tuesday against the Celtics.

Jazz Scouting Report

The Jazz have spent the past five years building a young core talented enough to take them back to the playoffs. Will it finally pay off this year?

That's the hope for Quinn Snyder and his maturing band of music-makers, who enter Friday's game winners of four straight and holders of the semi-coveted eighth spot in the West (good luck with the Warriors!). It hasn't always been pretty mind you, especially with Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert and Alec Burks (currently out with a broken leg) all missing extended stretches and Dante Exum missing the entire season with a torn ACL. But the Jazz are finally getting healthy(ish) and beginning to show hints of the team that dominated defensively last spring.

While the Jazz remain a modest 14th in overall defensive rating, much of that stems from Gobert missing 20 games earlier in the season. With Gobert in the lineup, their starting five has allowed just 96.2 points/100 possessions while outscoring opponents by eight points per 100, helping Utah to a 16-14 record in which the Stifle Tower has appeared. Gobert's individual per-minute numbers are mostly down across the board, but he's still a defensive monster who will make life difficult for Greg Monroe and the Bucks' paint-centric offense.

Interestingly, Utah has been even more consistent on the other end of the court, ranking 9th in offensive efficiency while relying heavily on the inside-out combo of Gordon Hayward (19.8 ppg, 3.7 apg, 56% true shooting) and Derrick Favors (16.5 ppg, 55% true shooting, 22.7 PER). The Jazz's depth has also been an essential piece of their offensive success, with 2014 first rounder Rodney Hood blossoming in Burks' absence (14.2 ppg) and the Treys (Burke and Lyles) providing useful minutes off the bench. The big area of need remains at the point, however, where Exum's absence has meant Snyder having to make do with the combination of Raul Neto (don't ask) and Burke (who still doesn't look like a starter). Watch out for Favors in particular; the Bucks simply don't have the size to match up with both Favors and Gobert inside, and the absence of Henson won't help.

Standings Watch

As noted above, the Bucks remain 13th in the East and are now a full 7.0 games out of the final playoff spot. Hint: they're not making the playoffs. On the silver linings side, they're still eighth in lotto standings and just a game behind sixth seeded New Orleans.

On the JazzSLC Dunk

15/16 NBA Season
Milwaukee bucks.vc6d60d4
(20-31, 7-23 road)
vs.
Utah jazz.v0b54dda
(23-25, 16-10 home)
February 5, 2016
Vivint Smart Home Arena | Salt Lake City, UT
8:00 CT
Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Michael Carter-Williams PG Raul Neto
Khris Middleton SG Rodney Hood
Jabari Parker SF Gordon Hayward
Giannis Antetokounmpo PF Derrick Favors
Greg Monroe C Rudy Gobert
2015/16 Advanced Stats
93.7 (24th)
Pace 90.7 (30th)
104.1 (24th)
ORtg 106.1 (9th)
109.5 (29th)
DRtg 104.7 (14th)