With the acknowledged caveat that their official preparation for the coming season restart is, at this point, still limited to individual players working with one assistant coach and one person to rebound the ball — no organized scrimmages or practices allowed for now — the Utah Jazz nevertheless have a collective urgency about them.
They’re due to depart for Orlando on Tuesday. After a couple days of self-quarantine and COVID-19 testing, they’ll finally get to resume full-group sessions. After that, as revealed by the NBA on Saturday, they’ll have warm-up scrimmages (preseason games, if you will), against the Phoenix Suns on July 23, the Miami Heat on July 25, and the Brooklyn Nets on July 27.
Given how little time there is between then and now, it’s been a constant refrain from players in interviews with media over the past few days just how seriously everyone needs to take this intervening period.
“Yeah, it’s super-important. I think we’ve had conversations within our team about this weekend, too,” said forward Joe Ingles. “Obviously, July 4 is a celebration day. Usually, I’m pretty sure, everyone gets with family and friends, and I would have a couple beers and enjoy myself. But you don’t want to ruin what you’ve done really since probably a couple weeks after we got back from OKC … It’s a really important time right now. And I hope, if my teammates are listening, they put their July 4 parties on hold. I’ll throw a party once we get back.”
The last thing he wants is for anyone to put themselves in a compromising situation and wind up exposed to the coronavirus. Testing positive at this point will make playing effectively in Orlando extremely difficult, in Ingles’ estimation: two weeks of isolation, seeing cardio deteriorate as you recover, missing out on training with coaches and teammates, et cetera, et cetera.
“You’re probably looking at three, four, five weeks before you’re back to kind of where you are now,” the Aussie pointed out.
And no one on this team wants that.
With scoring forward Bojan Bogdanovic sidelined for the entirety of this reconvening by May thumb surgery, the Jazz know that their margin for error is already incredibly thin. It’s not like they’ve got a spare 20-point per game scorer/40% 3-point shooter laying around in a storage room, after all. Rather, everyone else will simply have to do a little bit more to fill the void.
“We got guys who have the next-man-up mentality, so I think it’s gonna be all of us,” said Royce O’Neale.
Indeed, he and Ingles will have to boost their offensive usage. Jordan Clarkson and Georges Niang will be called upon to be consistently productive off the bench to account for the resulting depth deficit. Donovan Mitchell must become yet more prolific, while simultaneously boosting his efficiency.
And yet, the player who will likely most have to escalate his level of play figures to be point guard Mike Conley, who was starting to play his best basketball of the season right before the games were shut down.
“I don’t think any of us are going into this thinking that ‘I have to do what [Bogdanovic] was doing’ … [but] probably Mike will take a lot of that, which I think he’s he’s ready for and excited for,” Ingles said.
JAZZ SEEDING GAMES SCHEDULE
All times Mountain
July 30 • Pelicans, 4:30 p.m. (TNT)
Aug. 1 • Thunder, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Aug. 3 • Lakers, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Aug. 5 • Grizzlies, 12:30 p.m.
Aug. 7 • Spurs, 11 a.m.
Aug. 8 • Nuggets, 1:30 p.m. (TNT)
Aug. 10 • Mavericks, 1 p.m. (NBATV)
Aug. 13 • Spurs, time TBD
Check, and check, Conley agreed.
“I understand my situation, and really, I’m excited for it. I could get the opportunity to just play a role that I haven’t had to play so far this year,” he said. “So, I’ve been working every day since I got back to Ohio, just preparing my body and mind. Me and Donovan have talked a lot on the phone, [and] Joe — just talking about what we have to do and what we have to carry in order for us to try to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish without Bojan. I’m so excited for it and looking forward to the challenge.”
It’s helped that Conley has a private gym and court on his property in Columbus. Center Rudy Gobert has the same at his place in Salt Lake City. Still, many of their teammates — and much of the league, for that matter — had to make do with whatever they could get their hands on while the prohibition from entering team facilities was in place.
Mitchell, in particular, noted that it’s been a challenge trying to remain prepared these past few months.
“I really didn’t have much. I was in the basement of my mom’s house for most of the time. Really, doing a lot of sprints. I took about three weeks off, and after that, I just kind of got into the weights, continued to lift weights with the team via Zoom. Did a lot of sprinting on the field right down the street from my house. A lot of bike exercises — as much as I could, conditioning-wise. Understand, I couldn’t get onto a court for a very long time,” he explained. “… Mike has a facility at his house. Rudy has one as well. Well, I had my garage with my little dumbbells and a treadmill and a bike for the whole time. So that’s really where my concern is.”
Several of his teammates acknowledged similar worries. Where they hope to make up for it is with superior conditioning.
Pretty much every Jazz player on the record thus far has conveyed the excellent job done by the team’s strength, conditioning and training personnel in organizing video workouts for the players.
While acknowledging that their inability to all get together on the court means that coach Quin Snyder has been unable to install any new schemes, Niang said he, for one, would not be surprised to see the Jazz playing at a much faster pace in Orlando than they have the rest of the season, to take advantage of their focus on maintaining their conditioning.
“It seems like we’re gonna go full tilt. As we talk about playing styles, obviously all of us are trying to get in the best shape that we can just because we know how much time we’ve had off. And you don’t want to be that team that just gets ran out the gym. We kind of want to do the running [others] out of the gym,” Niang said. “Guys just want to be in good shape, to know that when we get down there, we will have an advantage over other teams that didn’t prepare as hard as we prepared.”