I don’t know how everyone else feels, but that Jazz win over the Nuggets on Wednesday night was refreshing as hell. I feel like it had been ages since I enjoyed watching the Jazz play basketball. They had about the worst two-week stretch that I think you can have as an NBA team. Not having literally most of your players available for a couple games, losing your All-Stars to injury for multiple games, not having your head coach due to COVID, seeing Joe Ingles writhe in pain on the ground with a torn ACL, and ultimately losing 11 of 13 games. It was a tough time to be a Jazz fan. That win over an obviously short-handed Nuggets team might not have seemed like much, but it put a good burst of positive energy in me, enough to write the most positive post that I have in a couple weeks.
The Utah Jazz are really close. Last season they were a couple injuries away from maybe making a run to the NBA Finals. I still believe that if Mike Conley doesn’t get inured, at the level he was playing, the Jazz reach the Finals, even with a hobbled Donovan Mitchell. Obviously that didn’t happen, and the Jazz were eliminated in the second round in pretty humiliating fashion. I’m not trying to bring up old “what if” stories, but last season the Jazz had the best chance to win an NBA championship in a very long time. This season started out no different, but due to a couple players performing at a lower level than they did last year and some other injuries, health issues, and a little drama, that “chance” seems to be dwindling. But is it really???
Hear me out. Put on your positive pants for like three minutes. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were named All-Stars last night for the THIRD CONSECUTIVE SEASON. That, in itself, is actually amazing. What’s more amazing is that Donovan Mitchell is playing tonight, for the first time in almost three weeks. Rudy Gobert is also set to return early next week.
Jazz star Donovan Mitchell has cleared the NBA’s concussion protocol and is available for tomorrow’s game vs. Nets, per team. Rudy Gobert (calf) remains out, but sources tell ESPN the All-NBA big man hopes to return early next week.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) February 3, 2022
This is lowkey some of the best news that we’ve gotten in a while regarding the Jazz. Getting these two All-Stars back in the lineup is exactly what everyone needs right now.
Even with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert both being back from injury, the Jazz stand at a crossroads. The remainder of the season can really only go one a few different ways. They stand pat at the trade deadline, run it back, everyone gets firing on all cylinders like we saw at times last season, and they make a triumphant run to the Western Conference Finals, and beyond. OR, they run it back, and crumble in the first or second round, like they have in past years. Another path - they shake things up. The Jazz have been heavily involved in plenty of trade rumors, mostly centered around Harrison Barnes and Jerami Grant, as of lately. It seems that the Jazz trying to make a move to improve on the defense, but how aggressive will they be? If they shake things up, will it reset the energy enough to get the Jazz back playing at a high level? Or will it be an alternate route to the same destruction in the second round? At the end of all of these paths that the Jazz are standing in front of, there are immensely different outcomes and consequences. Conference Finals, or NBA Finals runs probably mean continuity and retention of it’s core players, especially Donovan Mitchell. Another second round exit, and things might get really crazy, for everyone in the Jazz organization, coaches included.
These next couple of months are absolutely critical for this era of Jazz basketball. So much of what this team is right now, might change. It certainly will give these upcoming playoffs a unique edge and level of stress, knowing that if they fall short of expectations once again, things might get blown up. As a lifelong Jazz fan, I’m along for the ride.