An already unconventional season got even more so with the Utah Jazz — owners of the best regular-season record in the NBA — becoming the final playoff qualifier to learn their opponent on Friday night.
Obviously, that scenario has not been ideal for planning purposes, but given that the trade-off has been a week between games and the chance to get rested and healthy, the team generally seems OK with that.
Of course, there are teams that had the benefit of both the time off and knowing their opponent all week, but their trade-off is also not having home-court advantage for the whole of the postseason.
So again, the Jazz aren’t complaining about their circumstances.
“We had a great two days off Monday and Tuesday to get away and kind of rest our bodies and minds. So we are just controlling what we can control — that is to get out of there every day and practice hard and get better,” forward Bojan Bogdanovic said after Thursday’s practice. “So we are waiting to see who we’re going to play. And then from [Saturday] morning, we’re going to start to prepare for that.”
Defensive Player of the Year finalist Rudy Gobert agreed, noting that beginning the week with a welcome break, then spending the next few days tightening up their own schemes was not a bad way to proceed.
“I think it was great for us to just recharge, you know? Have a few days to kind of sit back and breathe a little bit after the long season that we had, and at the same time, be kind of sharpening our weapons, work on ourselves,” he said.
Coach Quin Snyder said he decided to give the players those back-to-back off days because late-season injuries to Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley impacted the rotations, ultimately resulting in several other players having more minutes added to their workloads.
“Rest has been a priority for us,” he said.
JAZZ PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
All times Mountain
Game 1 — Sunday, 7:30 p.m. vs. Warriors or Grizzlies
Game 2 — Wednesday, 8 p.m. vs. Warriors or Grizzlies
Game 3 — May 29, TBD at Warriors or Grizzlies
Game 4 — May 31, TBD at Warriors or Grizzlies
Game 5 — June 2, TBD vs. Warriors or Grizzlies*
Game 6 — June 4, TBD at Warriors or Grizzlies*
Game 7 — June 6, TBD vs. Warriors or Grizzlies*
Gobert, meanwhile, acknowledged he’d been keenly watching the league’s inaugural play-in tournament — partly, of course, to get a better sense of the Jazz’s ultimate first-round opponent, but also simply because it’s been compelling basketball.
He did note that when it’s a game that he has zero control over or impact upon, he tries to shift his attention to simply losing himself in the action as opposed to watching critically. Still even while allowing that Wednesday’s Lakers-Warriors tilt “was a great game to watch,” he said he was trying not to get too wrapped up in the consequences of the outcome, figuring that Utah would wind up with a challenging opponent, no matter who it is.
“At the end of the day, we know that if you want to win a championship, we’re going to have to beat good teams,” said Gobert. “And this year, there’s so many so many really good teams that, when you start worrying about other teams and who’s winning, who’s losing, who’s doing this, who’s doing that, you can lose focus on yourself. I think it’s been good for us to have a week to just focus on ourselves.”
Snyder said that this week has been a balancing act for the coaching staff — weighing rest against re-acclimation, and trying to focus neither too much nor too little on potential matchups ahead.
“Not knowing who you’re playing, you want to work, you’re ready to go, but at the same time, [you’re] being really smart about what it is that you’re doing,” Snyder said.
So what the Jazz have been doing is, as Bogdanovic and Gobert mentioned, is taking it easy for a few days, then addressing some of their own deficiencies, then finally turning their focus to their opponent. The Croatian said that, with both the Warriors and Grizzlies still in play as of Friday morning’s practice, the Utah contingent spent some time simulating both teams’ unique defensive styles in an effort to be prepared for either.
They believe they’re ready.
“We’ve tried to set it up in a way where we’ve not only focused on our potential opponent [but also] got to a pivotal point where we feel like we can move quickly when we find out who that is,” Snyder said. “Some of the focus, at least for us early in the week, has been on us. And that also requires planning, decision-making. So you kind of go broad and then you eventually narrow it in. … As the week progresses, I think we get deeper and deeper into the preparation for who we’re going to play.”