Shorthanded Celtics take on Jazz

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Injuries to key players are piling up at an alarming rate for Boston. The injury bug is complicating efforts from the Celtics to make up ground against Toronto in the race for the Eastern Conference's top seed.

Boston heads west to Utah to face the Jazz with a shortened roster on Wednesday. Since the start of March, the Celtics have lost Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis to serious injuries. Theis is done for the year while Irving and Smart won't be back in the lineup until the postseason.

Marcus Morris could also be sidelined against Utah after spraining his ankle in Monday's 102-94 win over Phoenix. It is a blow to the team's offense after Morris posted three straight 20-point games during Boston's current four-game winning streak. But the setback is a short-term one.

"I could be out a couple days, but nothing long term," Morris told the Boston Globe on Monday. "So, I'm good."

That's what's making Jayson Tatum's recent play even more invaluable. The rookie forward has emerged as a consistent offensive threat in absence of so many rotation regulars. Tatum is averaging 16.2 points on 50 percent shooting and 6.1 rebounds in March.

Tatum has had three 20-point outings in the last five games. He has shot 55 percent or better from the floor four times in that stretch.

"He's playing with a lot of confidence," teammate Al Horford told Celtics.com, "but just making the game simple."

The Jazz are getting confident production out of their own confident rookie, Donovan Mitchell. Utah is positioning itself for a strong finish in part because Mitchell continues to evolve into the type of go-to scorer the team thought it lost when Gordon Hayward departed via free agency to Boston.

Mitchell is averaging 23.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists in March. His ability to generate offense, especially late in games, has helped Utah post 11 wins over its last 13 contests.

One area of concern for the Jazz is slow starts. The Jazz averaged just 19.5 points in the first quarter in each of their last two games. It led to them digging out of holes against both Golden State and San Antonio. Utah succeeded in pulling away from the Warriors after halftime in a 110-91 win on Sunday. But a slow start ultimately cost them in a 124-120 overtime loss to the Spurs on Friday.

"We know what every game means at this point," guard Joe Ingles said after Monday's practice. "It's no secret. We just got to come out with the right mindset. ... Everyone who steps on the court needs to be ready to go."

Boston is making its first trip to Utah since Hayward joined the Celtics after spending seven seasons with the Jazz. Although Hayward still remains sidelined after dislocating his ankle and fracturing his tibia in the season opener, his presence still looms large for fans of the team he spurned.

Utah, however, is simply focused on getting another win over Boston to keep pace in a deep and spirited race for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.

"It's an important game, but for the playoff picture with what this team wants to accomplish," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.

Utah is aiming to complete a season sweep over Boston. The Jazz beat the Celtics 107-95 on December 15th. Ricky Rubio led the way for Utah with 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting, seven rebounds and five assists. The Jazz shot 52 percent from 3-point range in the win to offset a 33-point outing from Irving.