Houston • Ricky Rubio remains sidelined by a hamstring injury, so Donovan Mitchell will be introduced again Wednesday as the Jazz’s starting point guard.
Mitchell wants to avoid thinking of himself as Rubio’s replacement, though. Mitchell’s four turnovers in Sunday’s 110-96 loss to Houston in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals may have stemmed from being too conscious of passing the ball in his adjusted role, he said Tuesday after the Jazz’s practice at the Toyota Center.
Coach Quin Snyder and teammates, including Joe Ingles, have told Mitchell to keep playing the way he did in a first-round series vs. Oklahoma City. “Just being able to continue playing my game with that aggressive mindset will help me,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell and Ingles are sharing the primary ball-handling duties in Rubio’s absence. They’re charged with initiating the Jazz’s offense and involving their teammates, but Mitchell also knows he’s expected to score. He had no problem maintaining that approach in the second half of Game 6 vs. Oklahoma City, scoring 28 of his 38 points.
Mitchell scored 21 points — his playoff low in his seventh career game — on 9-of-22 shooting against the Rockets. The Jazz’s defeat led his friends and relatives to send messages of support, telling him to keep his head up. “My head was never down, and I don’t think my teammates’ heads were down,” Mitchell said. “It’s one game out of a long series.”
Or so the Jazz hope, anyway. They would like to believe this series will follow the trend of the duel with Oklahoma City, having lost Game 1 decisively in each case. The Jazz responded with a Game 2 victory over the Thunder after two days off just as in this series.
“We were in the exact same situation,” Ingles said. “Everyone had written us off after Game 1, probably the way they have now. We have a great group. We love being able to have the time to watch the film and make some adjustments.”
In Mitchell’s case, the study of Game 1 involves Kobe Bryant. The former Los Angeles Lakers star is breaking down selected players’ performances in his “Detail” episodes for WatchESPN, and Mitchell appreciated the critique. “He’s saying, ‘This can’t happen, that can’t happen,’ and I’m basically like, ‘He’s right,’” Mitchell said.
As his career develops, Mitchell hopes to learn from this year’s playoff experience of having to refocus from one series to the next — 36 hours in the case of Game 1 vs. Houston. After beating Oklahoma City, he discovered “how quickly you have to forget about it to move on to the next game.”
The Jazz will have had considerably more time to get ready for Game 2, and they hope it helps.