Quin Snyder and the Utah Jazz had no aversion to tanking games for playoff seeding. That mission accomplished, why would they then be averse to tanking a game to jump a few extra spots in the NBA draft?
They didn’t in the end, but they easily could have. While it might be slightly hyperbolic to say that was literally all there was on the line in their seeding game finale Thursday against the San Antonio Spurs, in all honesty, it wasn’t that far off.
With the sixth seed and a first-round matchup against the Nuggets wrapped up for Utah on Wednesday night, and the Spurs’ long-shot last-ditch bid for a playoff berth of their own rendered obsolete right before Thursday’s tipoff, literally all that remained was getting a few rotation guys some tuneup minutes, avoiding injury to the key players, and giving one last look at the newbies under consideration for playing some small role going forward.
And so, their meaningless 118-112 victory out of the way, the Jazz can now turn their full attention to their first-round series with Denver.
“The most important thing for us as we head into the playoffs was to be healthy,” Snyder said beforehand. “I think being rested is part of being healthy, but really, to have guys available to play and to be as close to 100% as we can. Because the odds are, when you get in the playoffs, that people are going to get banged up again. But it’s a question of degree.”
Mostly good news then, on the injury front.
Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley and Emmanuel Mudiay all sat out. None of Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale and Jordan Clarkson played more than 14 minutes, 2 seconds.
Utah did not come away completely unscathed, as big man Ed Davis had to depart what was arguably his best performance in a Jazz uniform (11 points, six rebounds, disruptive defense in 7:29 of court time) with a left knee injury after someone rolled into his leg on a rebound attempt. But considering Davis was the third- or perhaps fourth-string center at this point, that won’t spell disaster going forward.
Snyder’s other stated goal of continuing to “sculpt a different team” by virtue of evaluating and developing a bench also got plenty of run.
Utah closed the game with a Salt Lake City Stars-based lineup composed from among the likes of Juwan Morgan, Jarrell Brantley, Miye Oni, Rayjon Tucker, Nigel Williams-Goss and Justin Wright-Foreman.
Tucker scored a team-high 18 points. Brantley, featuring a Ferrari engine in a tank body, played some counterintuitive point forward and acquitted himself well, with 13 points, six assists, and four rebounds. Williams-Goss also hit double-digits on the scoreboard, too, with 10 points, including a 2-for-5 effort from 3-point range.
Now, though, it’s on to Denver — as it were.
Their first-round series will get underway Monday in the bubble, with Game 1 tipping off at 11:30 a.m. MDT.
Mitchell, who totaled 11 points, four rebounds and three assists in just 11:20 of action, said he’s looking forward to the coming increase in intensity, increase in force, and — of course — an increase in the stakes.
“I think you’ll see a different level of competition, for one, I think there [will be] intensity; certain shots guys have been getting now that won’t be there; there’s certain possessions [where] the game will definitely continue to slow down” Mitchell said. “At the end of the day, with us and Denver, the only thing you’re really missing [now] is the fans and the altitude. The game is going to be played the same — I think it’s going to be a continuous physicality.”
Jazz-Nuggets playoff series
Game 1 • Monday, 11:30 a.m. MT, ESPN
Game 2 • Wednesday, 2 p.m. MT, TNT
Game 3 • Friday, 2 p.m. MT, TNT
Game 4 • Aug. 23, 7 p.m. MT, TNT
Game 5 • Aug. 25, time and TV TBD*
Game 6 • Aug. 27, time TBD, ESPN*
Game 7 • Aug. 29, time TBD, TNT