The latest wait is over.
After yet another interminable delay of days stretching very nearly into infinity, the Utah Jazz at last on Sunday afternoon discovered their next postseason opponent.
This one figures to be a bit more imposing than the previous one.
They’ll be taking on the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals, after L.A. fended off the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of their first-round matchup. Game 1 of Jazz vs. Clippers will take place at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City this Tuesday, with tipoff slated for 8 p.m.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder acknowledged later Sunday that Utah’s second-round foe figures to present a formidable challenge.
“We’ve got our hands full,” Snyder said. “They’re a team that, certainly, we’re well-aware how good they are.”
That’s no hyperbole, either, considering many pundits picked the Clippers to emerge from the Western Conference and play in the NBA Finals.
Granted, L.A.’s 47-25 mark in the regular season was a full five games worse than Utah’s 52-20 record, but some of that may be attributed to stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George being limited to just 52 and 54 games, respectively, during the regular season.
It’s also worth remembering that the Clippers intentionally dropped their final two games (against the lottery-bound Rockets and Thunder) to get themselves into what they perceived to be more favorable matchups on this side of the playoff bracket.
That strategy nearly backfired, as Dallas took series leads of 2-0 and 3-2, before Los Angeles captured the final two games to advance. Now they get the opportunity to take on the team that finished with the best record in the NBA.
The Jazz took two of three games from the Clippers during their regular-season meetings, prevailing 106-100 on Jan. 1 at Vivint Arena, blowing them out 114-96 on Feb. 17 at Staples Center (when Leonard, George, and the Jazz’s Mike Conley all sat out), then falling 116-112 on Feb. 19, also in Los Angeles.
Those meetings — and L.A.’s more recent matchups against the Mavs — certainly impressed upon Snyder what a good team the Clippers are, particularly from beyond the arc.
“The way that they played against Dallas, the way that they space the floor, you have the top 3-point shooting team in the league. They make them at a higher percentage than anyone else,” Snyder said. “They’re able to put five guys out there that can all make shots, and then they have other guys that can create shots. … You’re going to end up giving something up.”
Of course, it all starts with their pair of All-Star wings.
Both Leonard and George excelled in L.A.’s seven-game series against the Mavs, the former averaging 32.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 4.6 assists on 61.2% from the field and 42.5% from 3, while the latter put up 23.6 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 5.7 assists on 46.2% FGs (he did shoot only 30.6% beyond the arc).
However, as Snyder was quick to point out, “their depth makes them unique,” and Sunday’s Game 7 should serve as an apt reminder that the Clippers are far from a two-man show. They boast an abundance of talented personnel that afford them enviable lineup and situational versatility.
“Because [Leonard and George are] such great players, there’s a tendency not to talk as much, just naturally, about some of the other guys on their team — a guy like [Terance] Mann coming in and the impact he had in the series; what [Marcus] Morris did [Sunday], hitting big shots; [Luke] Kennard coming in and making big shots; [Nicolas] Batum defending … you can go down the line — Patrick Beverley, his ball pressure and his competitiveness; [Ivica] Zubac, what he does,” Snyder said. “They’re just a very, very good, excellent, well-balanced team, and they present problems in a lot of different ways.”
That said, even though the Jazz have not been able to focus their scouting in on a specific opponent since wrapping up their own first-round series with a Game 5 win against Memphis this past Wednesday, Snyder nevertheless maintained that his team will be as prepared as possible by the time the Clippers take the court at Vivint Arena on Tuesday night.
Certainly, the Jazz have re-watched their trio of regular-season matchups against L.A., and they’ve also been paying close attention to the Mavericks series. And while that can’t possibly be enough to anticipate every little wrinkle thrown at them, Snyder said he and his team will certainly be starting from a place of informed assumptions, then will be prepared to dial in the adjustments as the games progress.
Whatever is coming, whatever players and combinations of players get thrown out there, he figures his team won’t be caught off-guard.
“Certainly we’re familiar with their personnel. It doesn’t matter if there’s two guys or five guys or 10 guys,” he said. “… There’s no danger that we’re not going to be aware and prepared, that anybody coming off the bench is going to catch us by surprise as far as what they’re capable of doing.
“That doesn’t mean we’re always going to be able to prevent it from happening,” he added.
But at least the wait to find out if they can more often than not is finally just about over.
JAZZ-CLIPPERS SERIES SCHEDULE
Game 1 • Tuesday, 8 p.m. MT, at Utah, TNT
Game 2 • Thursday, 8 p.m. MT, at Utah, ESPN
Game 3 • Saturday, 6:30 p.m. MT, at Los Angeles, ABC
Game 4 • June 14, 8 p.m. MT, at Los Angeles, TNT
Game 5* • June 16, time TBD, at Utah, TNT
Game 6* • June 18, time TBD, at Los Angeles, ESPN
Game 7* • June 20, time TBD, at Utah, TV TBD
* — if necessary