Typically the only time that NBA teams square off three times in a six-day span is in a best-of-seven playoff series.
No, we’re not to the postseason yet, but the Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies are still gearing up for just such a three-peat.
The ironic thing is, their Friday/Saturday/Wednesday mini-series could, in fact, serve as a potential playoff matchup down the line.
The Jazz have been atop the league standings for some time now. The Grizzlies are battling for one of the Western Conference’s final postseason berths, currently inhabiting play-in tournament territory. It’s conceivable that these two teams could meet up again down the road with much more on the line.
Not that the Jazz will admit as much — they’re far too focused on being in the moment to admit to considering hypothetical postseason clashes. Nevertheless, after fending off a Grizz rally in the first half of last week’s back-to-back, then getting off to a fast start and cruising to another victory in the scrappy, trash-talk-filled rematch, Utah’s players figure Wednesday’s tilt is bound to be, well …
“A dogfight — nothing less than that,” said Jazz forward Georges Niang. “Memphis is a super-tough team, they have a lot of skilled guys. And they’re not happy that they came out here and dropped two against us. So we’re definitely going to get their best bet and their best fight, and we’re going to have to be ready for it.”
JAZZ AT GRIZZLIES
When • Wednesday, 6 p.m.
TV • ATTSN
In the meantime, though, the Jazz are simply viewing Wednesday’s matchup in Memphis as nothing more than the product of a weird season featuring a truncated schedule and constricted travel protocols.
That’s it. And, given what they’ve seen from the Grizzlies, that’s plenty.
After all, while Utah holds a two-games-to-zero lead to this point, they’ve been plenty impressed with what the up-and-coming squad has shown thus far.
“It was a really competitive game,” coach Quin Snyder said after Friday’s initial face-off. “We made some big plays when we needed to, so … a hard-fought win, no question about it, setting it up for [Saturday]. It’s going to be even more difficult.”
Even if that didn’t exactly turn out to be true, Donovan Mitchell still came away from the rematch with an appreciation for his foe.
“They’re a team that’s on the rise. They got young guys ready to hoop, guys out there being physical, doing what they do. They’re a tough team to play,” Mitchell said after Saturday’s matchup. “So [it’s about] just being able to go out there and just set the tone early. We see these guys again [Wednesday], and I imagine it’ll be just as physical and just as chirpy.”
Indeed, Saturday’s game in particular was marked by plentiful interactions between Mitchell and his primary defender, Memphis wing Dillon Brooks.
Given that the two-time All-Star wound up scoring 35 points apiece in the two games, it’s fair to say he got the upper hand individually, just as the Jazz did collectively. Still, the Grizzlies made things interesting with their schematic shifts, utilizing a drop-big coverage in one that enabled them to chase Utah’s shooters off the 3-point line but which left them exposed to pick-and-roll actions; then largely shutting down the midrange and the rim attacks in the follow-up, but leaving themselves exposed on the perimeter.
The consistent thread in both games was their desire to impose their will.
“We know they’re a physical team,” said Royce O’Neale. “We know they’re going to come out and play hard every game, and we’ve got to match that intensity, get off to great starts.”
If the Jazz can pull that off against the Grizzlies a third time, well, they’d have to like their chances to do it four times in, say, mid- to late-May.