This NBA season is unprecedented for a whole host of reasons. The latest, for the Utah Jazz, is set to play out on Thursday evening with the first of several schedule quirks:
Consecutive games against the same opponent, played within the same market.
After defeating the New Orleans Pelicans 118-102 on Tuesday night at Vivint Arena, the Jazz will host the Pels again on Thursday at 8 p.m.
While such occurrences are extremely rare in a typical NBA season, these meetings are quite a bit more commonplace within the 2020-21 league slate, as measures were taken to attempt to reduce travel amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell acknowledged the weirdness of taking on the Pelicans in two straight games at the Viv, saying that he would try to reconcile it by envisioning it as a postseason matchup.
“Yeah, I think you kind of treat it like a playoff series. We, in a sense, won Game 1, and they’ll make adjustments to what they did well and then be ready for Game 2, and we’ll do the same,” Mitchell said. “Whenever you win a game like this, you gotta be ready for a lot of energy from them in the second game — things are gonna be completely different.”
Among the Jazz’s half-season schedule as yet released, this marks the first of three occasions that such back-to-back matchups will occur.
The next such instance is right around the corner, too — as the Dallas Mavericks visit Salt Lake City next week for games at Vivint Arena on Wednesday the 27th and Friday the 29th. The Jazz will also visit Staples Center on Feb. 17 and 19 for consecutive games against the Los Angeles Clippers. (And though they didn’t officially count, the Jazz and Suns played consecutive preseason games in Utah in December.)
JAZZ VS. PELICANS
When • Thursday, 8 p.m.
TV • TNT
While coach Quin Snyder conceded that such games are “something every team in the league has got to be able to focus through,” he added that doesn’t mean these scenarios aren’t difficult.
Facing any team two times in a row is difficult. Facing these Pelicans two times in a row, the Jazz believe, will make Thursday’s game far more difficult.
Part of the solution for navigating the matchup ahead, the coach elaborated, is forgetting about the result, if not the actions taken to produce it.
“Oh, it’s different. Any time you play a team [multiple times] in a short time span, there’s opportunities. You feel the last game,” Snyder said. “We were fortunate — we shot the ball [well], I thought we moved the ball to get good shots, but we made a lot of shots, and they missed them. So you can’t rely on the ball going in the basket. We’ve got to flush this game, forget about it, and be ready to play the next one, because it is a quick turn.”
To that end, forward Joe Ingles noted that while New Orleans’ players and coaches certainly won’t go into the rematch believing that Tuesday’s outcome now means they stand no chance, they will analyze the situations where they saw success against Utah and amplify those accordingly.
Conversely, the Jazz go in knowing that while there’s no guarantee that they maintain their prolific production from 3-point range, they also have areas where they did not perform well the first time around that they can transform from weaknesses to strengths in the second go-round.
“Obviously, going small at the end, for them, might be something that they liked, and they went on a little run there,” Ingles said. “From our point of view, from our group, we’ll be pretty happy. The two runs that they went on, one in the second quarter, and one in the last [minutes] there — we can clean up. It’s all [fixable] stuff: Donovan lost it a couple of times, they blitzed towards the end. So cleaning up stuff like that is on us. And that’s kind of easy to fix because we know what we should be doing. So we’ll see what they come out with adjustment-wise.”
Both Snyder and Mitchell concurred that the Jazz will be anticipating some changes from the New Orleans side. Center Rudy Gobert, meanwhile, is more focused upon Utah’s adjustments.
In his estimation, Thursday will come down to not what wrinkles the Pelicans throw at them, but what improvements the Jazz continue to make.
“It’s about focusing on us, on the things that we did. There’s a lot of things that we feel like we can do better — the rebounds, the lazy little little stretch when we turned the ball over when they changed their coverage,” Gobert said. “So it’s all about us [needing to] keep getting better as a team. It’s one game at a time and we’re going to keep getting better.”
Thursday’s game against the Pelicans at Vivint Arena marks the first of three occasions on the Jazz’s first-half schedule that they’ll play consecutive games vs. the same opponent in the same locale:
Opponent, Venue, Dates
New Orleans Pelicans, Vivint Arena, Jan. 19, 21
Dallas Mavericks, Vivint Arena, Jan. 27, 29
Los Angeles Clippers, Staples Center, Feb. 17, 19