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Mike Conley could reportedly miss 2 weeks with knee strain. How will the Jazz cope?


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SALT LAKE CITY — First, the good news: Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley avoided a major injury when he hyperextended his knee during Saturday's win in Portland.

The bad? Utah's starting point guard could miss two weeks — at least according to a report from The Athletic. Officially, Conley will miss Monday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers with a Popliteus muscle strain. He will be reevaluated when the team returns to Salt Lake City on Tuesday and then daily after that, meaning he could return before that two-week mark.

Still, for at least one game — and likely more — the Jazz will be without one of their most important players.

Conley has averaged 10.2 points and a career-high 7.9 assists this season. And you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in the Jazz organization that wouldn't give a lot of the credit of Utah's 12-6 start to the veteran guard.

So what now?

There's been an assumption that the Jazz are merely one major trade or injury away from falling back down to earth, but if Saturday's game was any indication, it might take more than that.

As Conley was examined in the back, Jordan Clarkson, Malik Beasley, and Talen Horton-Tucker showed that Utah may just be able to withstand the loss of their starting lead guard.

Utah coach Will Hardy has seen the influence of Conley on Clarkson as he's become more of a playmaker and less of a "hired gun," as Clarkson described his role in his first few years in Utah. Then there was the game against Memphis earlier in the season, which Conley missed, when Clarkson had 5 points and four assists in the fourth quarter to lead Utah to a win.

When it comes to Beasley, Hardy has called him a "showman" with a knack for making big shots in critical moments.

So when both of those players stepped up in the final quarter in Portland, it was far from a surprise. Clarkson had 15 points in the fourth quarter and Beasley added 10 of his own in the final frame as the Jazz took over the top spot in the Western Conference.

Horton-Tucker, though, was asked to take on a new role.

Horton-Tucker entered Saturday's game averaging just 16.3 minutes over Utah's first 17 games of the season. On Saturday, the 21-year-old guard, who's had some major ups and downs in his first year in Utah, played 31 minutes and finished with 8 points, five rebounds and two assists.

Horton-Tucker also helped limit Damian Lillard to 2-for-14 shooting before the Blazers point guard's night was also cut short, and the Jazz outscored Portland by 12 points when he was on the court.

The way he handled it all impressed his head coach.

"For me, it's just the general poise that he played with on the road, second night of it back to back, their team's making a run, the crowd's going crazy and he didn't flinch," Hardy said. "He just stayed the course and executed what we wanted to do. … Those moments are hard when you're on the road and when you're thrust into a role that you haven't had yet this season. So I thought just his general poise throughout the second half was remarkable."

Hardy said that Horton-Tucker "delivered" for the Jazz, and he'll likely be called upon to do that again in the coming weeks.

Utah has pointed to its significant depth as a reason for why it's been able to outperform expectations up to this point of the season. The Jazz have gotten big games from up and down their roster. There's been All-Star-like performances from Lauri Markkanen, strong finishes from Collin Sexton, hot shooting from Beasley, game-saving plays from Kelly Olynyk and the list goes on and on.

With Conley out that depth will now be tested in new ways.

More good news: The Jazz may just have the type of roster to handle it.

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