Memphis • With Ricky Rubio ruled out before Friday’s game against the Grizzlies due to left hip tightness, Raul Neto also out due to left hamstring tightness, and Dante Exum still on the shelf due to a left ankle sprain, the Jazz were once again forced to resort to their backup-of-a-backup-of-a-backup plan to use Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles as the team’s primary and secondary ballhandlers.
The good news, though, delivered about 45 minutes before the scheduled tipoff, is that they may not have to do that much more going forward, as Exum was officially cleared to return to practice.
The former lottery pick has been out since Jan. 5 when he sprained his ankle trying to defend a crossover during the second quarter of a game against Detroit. Since then, the sprain yielded a bone bruise, which further delayed his return. He has missed Utah’s last 25 games.
Coach Quin Snyder, speaking before the Exum announcement was made, discussed the constant adjustments his team has had to make this season to various players being out.
“It’s as much a part of the NBA season as anything else. That’s where other guys gotta be prepared to adjust, play more, play slightly different roles,” he said. “It’s something that we’ve ran into — we ran into it early with Donovan. We want everybody to be healthy, but that’s not always the case. The one thing I will say — our guys, as far as their training and their recovery process, we’re controlling abut as much as we can control with respect to those things. And sometimes there’s things that are out of your hands, and they happen, and you just have to adjust.”
Grizzlies coach JB Bickerstaff, meanwhile, addressed the differences in how the Jazz operate with Mitchell and Ingles running the show vs. the usual point guards, pointing out that while “they still try to accomplish the same things,” there becomes a discrepancy in how they go about it.
“Those guys, because of their want and ability to score the basketball, the initial action — there’s maybe more pressure there. With Donovan Mitchell handling the pick-and-roll, his ability to score and that threat he’s creating initially, you have to be on a little bit higher alert in that situation,” Bickerstaff said. “When Ricky has the ball in his hands, all the other guys become that much more of a threat because of his ability to playmaker and pass. So the point of attack becomes more important when [Mitchell and Ingles] have the ball in their hands.”
It’s been awhile
Friday’s matchup between the teams was their fourth meeting this season, but their first since Nov. 12. All three of the previous tilts came in Utah’s first 13 games of the season.
Given that, plus the big roster changes that Memphis made around the trade deadline, both teams acknowledged that general principles would carry over, but that there might not be a lot of similarities otherwise.
Snyder praised the Grizz for retaining their defensive intensity, while noting that on offense, “They’re probably pushing the ball a little bit more, because they’re playing a little bit smaller, and they’re playing Delon Wright and [Mike] Conley and those guys together some.”
Bickerstaff added that while Utah’s roster hadn’t changed much, its results certainly have since those early meetings.
“Utah’s playing better than they were at that point in the season. I think they’re firing from all angles now,” he said. “That defense, with those big guys in the middle of the floor, they make it difficult on you. So the ideas of trying to move those big guys, make extra passes, those types of things can be the same — we just got different personnel trying to get it done.”