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Gordon Monson: Jazz will ‘figure out’ playing without Donovan Mitchell

However long the All-Star guard is out, the premium will be on ensuring he’s ready to go again when the games matter most

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) gives directions to his team mates during a time out, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Atlanta Hawks at Vivint Arena, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.

Whew.

At 8:18 of the third quarter in the Jazz’s game against the Pacers on Friday, the Jazz trailed the Pacers, as they had for much of the game, but, more significantly, in that moment the Jazz’s season teetered toward a huge change, toward a disaster, at least competitively speaking.

Donovan Mitchell crumpled to the floor, couldn’t limp away on his own, needing help into the locker room, his right leg unusable.

Almost everyone at Vivint Arena freaked.

What would happen if … ?

Shut your mouth.

As Mike Conley said: “Donovan is so important to our team. He’s what makes us go.”

Other teams in the West have been left to suffer from stars getting hurt — among them, the Lakers having missed LeBron James and Anthony Davis for a long stretch, the Nuggets having lost Jamal Murray for the duration with a torqued knee.

Now it appeared to be the Jazz’s turn to suffer.

It was an ankle, not a knee.

The exact extent of that twisted joint is yet unknown, the length of the necessary healing. It’s a sprain, and that’s much better than a knee, and even better, a low sprain as opposed to a high one. Still, anyone who has ever experienced such a thing knows there is a wide spectrum for what the ramifications of such an injury are. The postgame x-rays on the ankle bones were negative. An MRI comes later.

“We hope it’s nothing serious,” Quin Snyder said.

It could be a few days. It could be a few weeks. It could be longer.

Whichever way that determination falls, the fortunes of the Jazz might fall with it.

Such is the serendipity, or whatever its unhappy opposite would be, in a team’s pursuit of contention. Here the Jazz are in the midst of their best season in more than a decade, aiming with sharper focus on and greater expectations for a year of promise.

It’s not that the Jazz don’t have other talent, perhaps even enough to smooth through what is judged to be the NBA’s easiest schedule into the postseason. But what was simple before just got more complicated.

The goal all along this time around for the Jazz has been to do their damage in the playoffs, a place that hasn’t been all that kind to them in earlier seasons.

Ironic or not, the fact that they have the NBA’s best regular-season record is welcome, too.

The team will do all it can to rehab their star’s injury, giving him the time and treatment required to get completely whole again for May and June. Even if it means losing games they might otherwise win in the meantime. They also won’t overuse the other guys to make up for the deficiency. Their health must be protected, too. But proper focus will be required.

Maybe the Jazz will keep their regular-season boat afloat, bailing as they go until Mitchell returns. Maybe the twist will be a mere tweak.

Either way, if they do, that will be a considerable accomplishment.

If they don’t, if they drop down a bit in the Western Conference standings, it won’t be as detrimental as not being ready to go when the games matter most, even if their jumping off point for the playoffs comes from second or third or fourth or whatever it will be.

Snyder put it this way: “You try to figure out ways to play well and win because … [injuries] happen. Guys have got to try to come together and figure it out.”

That’s exactly what the Jazz did after Mitchell left the game on Friday. Over one subsequent span, the Jazz held the Pacers scoreless in 25 of 31 possessions.

“There’s a level of urgency that you have to have,” Snyder said.

If the Jazz didn’t know that before, now it’s perfectly clear.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.

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