On Wednesday night, hours after the conclusion of the Utah Jazz’s 124-105 series-tying victory over the Denver Nuggets, Donovan Mitchell paid Mike Conley a visit.
Well, kind of.
Obviously, with Conley having to quarantine for four days after leaving the bubble at the beginning of the week for the birth of his son Elijah, he couldn’t have person-to-person contact with anyone lest his quarantine countdown reset.
So instead, as documented on Mitchell’s Instagram account, the All-Star and other players unknown cat-called Conley from outside as he stood in front of a large window in his hotel room: “Mike! … It’s Mike! … Everybody, it’s Mike! … Michael! … It’s alright, Mike. You’ll be out soon. … We’ll see you soon, bro!”
Specifically, if all goes well, the Jazz will be seeing Conley back in the starting lineup for Friday’s pivotal Game 3.
And as much as Utah’s players and coaches have loved the job that rookie big man Juwan Morgan has done as a surprise spot starter these past two games, there’s no question that should Conley return his fourth negative test before gametime — the Jazz listed him as probable on their injury report — he’ll be out there for tipoff.
And everyone within the organization is eager to see it happen.
“Can’t wait to have him back,” coach Quin Snyder said following Thursday’s practice. “His teammates feel excited to have a guy that’s so impactful, and such a good player and such a big part of what we do.”
And yes, he remains just that, even after Utah took Denver to overtime in Game 1 and prevailed in Game 2 without him.
Asked Thursday what it would take to get Conley smoothly reacclimated, Snyder scoffed and interrupted the query.
“I don’t think that’s even a question or an issue,” he said. “He’s only been out for a few days, so I don’t think there’s any reintegration to be had. It’s like being out a quarter, or six minutes’ worth.”
Making these perhaps the longest six minutes of Conley’s life.
Nevertheless, his teammates are ready for that time to be up.
While praising the job that Morgan did, All-Star center Rudy Gobert also happily rattled off the myriad beneficial attributes that Conley brings to the table, while noting that he’ll be able to take some pressure off Mitchell as another offensive option.
“It’s another big weapon on our side. Juwan has been amazing in his two starts that he had with us. Mike, of course, is a different kind of player … and just his experience, his poise, and his talent, it’s something that can only make the team better,” Gobert said. “Throughout the whole bubble experience, the whole eight [seeding] games that we had, Mike’s been playing the best basketball I’ve seen him play. I really feel like he’s in a great place. I think it can only be a positive for us to have him back.”
Nuggets coach Michael Malone hasn’t specifically addressed the possibility of Conley’s return, but noted on Thursday that the Jazz were flourishing mostly on account of their playmaking and prolific 3-point shooting — two areas where the point guard happens to excel.
Two of Malone’s players, meanwhile, gave no indication that Conley coming back moved the needle one way or another. Star guard Jamal Murray called the Ohio State product “a great player, very underrated,” but said Denver’s players “just got to do what we do” and not worry about who Utah has on the court.
Reserve point guard Monte Morris, meanwhile, said it’s not as though the Nuggets have never matched up against a Jazz team featuring Conley before, though he couldn’t guess as to how things might be different this time.
“Honestly, man, I don’t really know. We’ve played against Conley mostly every time besides the playoffs,” Morris said. “I don’t know what they got in store, I’m more focused just on what we do. If we come out and play our basketball, it shouldn’t really matter who’s playing. If we do the right things, we can beat anybody. Whatever they bring, we just gotta be ready to bring noise back.”
Series tied 1-1
Game 1 • Nuggets 135, Jazz 125 (OT)
Game 2 • Jazz 124, Nuggets 105
Game 3 • Friday, 2 p.m. MT, TNT
Game 4 • Sunday, 7 p.m. MT, TNT
Game 5 • Tuesday, time and TV TBD
Game 6 • Aug. 27, time TBD, ESPN*
Game 7 • Aug. 29, time TBD, TNT*