After last night’s insane ending to the Lakers and Warriors game, the Jazz have their first round opponent narrowed down to two teams; the Golden State Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies. Due to the format of the newly-introduced “play-in” games, the loser of the 7-8 seeds (Warriors) plays the winner of the 9-10 seeds (Grizzlies). The Warriors and Grizzlies play tomorrow night at 7:00 PM in a sudden death bout for the final spot in the NBA Playoffs. The Jazz will play the winner of that game in a normal 7-game series starting Sunday night at 7:30 PM.
NBA announces Jazz playoff schedule: pic.twitter.com/GipoqgppNO— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) May 20, 2021
The Jazz were pretty dang close to getting LeBron, AD and the defending champs in the first round, assuming they could have taken care of business against the Grizzlies tomorrow. There has been a lot of discourse lately about the Jazz’s upcoming opponent, and whether or not they could have handled the Lakers in the first round. Now with that possibility eliminated, the Jazz can shift their focus towards the Warriors or Grizzlies, which seems like a much more feasible first round matchup.
The Jazz enter the playoffs as the one seed for the fist time since the Stockton-Malone era, and had sole ownership of the league’s best record for the first time in franchise history. With the one seed and the NBA’s best record, you know there’s got to be some added pressure for the Jazz. Getting bounced in the first round would obviously just be a a complete nightmare. That just cannot happen. But the NBA is crazy, especially in the Western Conference. With the added pressure of the one seed, you just never know what could happen. The Jazz have had a target on their backs for most of the entire regular season with the league’s best record, and that probably won’t change in the playoffs.
Donovan Mitchell coming back from injury
Now that we know a little bit more about their upcoming first round matchup, what can we expect from the Jazz in this year’s playoff? Right now, a big question surrounding game one on Sunday is Donovan Mitchell’s status. He’s been out for over a month now with that ankle sprain sustained against the Pacers back on April 16. The Jazz struggled without him, but won enough games to secure the one seed. The vibe going around is that the Jazz are being cautious and want to make sure he’s 100%, as they should. It seems like from some things other players have said, that Donovan Mitchell will be ready for game one. Part of me wonders if the Jazz are waiting to see who their opponent is before they decide if they need to unleash Spida-Man Mitchell or not. Maybe he sits game one, and as long as they don’t need him, he keeps nursing that ankle. Either way, at some point hopefully next week Donovan Mitchell is back on the floor in the NBA Playoffs. The world needs more of these 50+ point playoff games from Mr. Mitchell.
(Should have posted a trigger warning before this video, though. Every time I watch highlights from the Jazz-Nuggets series, my heart is reminded of that intense game 7 pain.)
It’ll be interesting to see how Mitchell plays bouncing back from this injury. He’s always been a rhythm-based player. It seems like it always takes him a little while to get going at the start of a new season, or a playoff series, etc. Not playing for a month and then hopping right into playoff basketball is pretty brutal. We all know the level of play elevates like crazy in the playoffs, so hopefully Mitchell can adapt and get back to the way he was playing before he got hurt.
The Jazz need Rudy Gobert to have a monster post-season. There is this narrative going around general NBA twitter that Rudy doesn’t show up in the playoffs, or that he gets “played off the floor”. If you have a brain, and have watched the Jazz in the playoffs the last few years, you know that’s not true. But what is true, is that Gobert hasn’t necessarily elevated his game in the playoffs each season. The thing that makes guys like LeBron, Kawai, Steph, etc so dangerous in the playoffs is that they all elevate their games to a new level. Granted, these guys are Hall of Famers, and also, just entirely different types of players than Rudy Gobert. But Rudy needs to go full-Gobzilla mode this year. He’s coming off arguably the best season of his career, led the regular season in blocks, rebounds, FG % and a handful of advanced metrics and statistics. He’s well on his way to a third DPOY. But Rudy wants more. He, more than anyone else on the Jazz, has talked about winning a Championship for years and years. If it’s going to happen this year, Gobert is going to have to find a new gear. He’s got to take over games in the way that only he can, by completely neutralizing the paint, and sometimes entire offenses. I think this will be the year we see Rudy become a different beast in the playoffs.
Bojan Bogdanovic hitting his stride
The injuries to Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley really sucked, but they could have been mini blessing in disguise. With those two out, the Jazz needed offense desperately. When they call came, Bojan Bogdanovic was ready. Bojan went on an absolute tear over the last month or so of the season, including a career-high 48-point performance against the Nuggets earlier this month.
Bojan hitting his stride going into the playoffs might lowkey be the most important thing for this team’s title hopes. Having another scorer that can give you big buckets when you need them is a critical thing to have in the playoffs. Bojan’s shown that he can be superman in clutch moments, and for the Jazz to make a title run, they will need Bojan’s scoring, especially his three-point shooting.
Keep it Raining
The Jazz finished the season as arguably the best three-point shooting team of all-time. Dozens of records were broken by this squad, including become the first team to make 10 threes in every single game in a season, which is just insane consistency. The Jazz proved this season that whey they make threes, they are pretty much impossible to beat. If the Jazz go through a cold shooting stretch in the playoffs, things could get real bad. But looking at the consistency and efficiency at which they shot the three-ball this season, it’s unlikely that happens . If the Jazz are going to make a run at the title, there is going to be some heavy rain in the forecast for the next couple summer months.