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Using mental toughness to fight exhaustion, the Jazz dug deep to beat the Magic

There are going to be games the Jazz will have to push through during the condensed regular season. That was the case against the Orlando Magic.

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Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) drives past Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) in the second half during an NBA basketball game, Saturday Feb. 27, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. 

Joe Skipper, Associated Press

There are going to be games when the Utah Jazz just don’t have the same energy and pep as they do on other nights. There are going to be nights when their legs feel heavy and they have to find a way to push through the weight of the condensed regular season.

That was the case Saturday night, on the second night of a road back-to-back against the Orlando Magic.

After leaving Miami late on Friday night after their loss to the Heat, the Jazz arrived in Orlando in the wee hours of the morning Saturday. They didn’t have a shoot-around but they did still have to wake up early to get their first COVID-19 test out of the way before a team meeting. There was time to rest before the game that night, but there was certainly a level of exhaustion that set in.

“Well, we’re not allowed to be tired, for one thing. That mindset, the way we started the game, we weren’t pushing the ball as much as we wanted to and we didn’t get some of the catch and shoot 3s.” — Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder

The Jazz went on to beat the Magic, 124-109, but it was clear early on that they were going to have to dig deep down to find the resolve to get through the game. At the end of the first quarter they were leading by just one point after shooting 18.2% from 3-point range.

“Well, we’re not allowed to be tired, for one thing,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “That mindset, the way we started the game, we weren’t pushing the ball as much as we wanted to and we didn’t get some of the catch and shoot 3s.”

Donovan Mitchell was scoreless through the first quarter and had just six points by the end of the first half. But the Jazz were able to stay defensively focused, which is always key for this team, even more so when they don’t have the energy elsewhere.

“I was tired early, and then I felt better and better,” Rudy Gobert said after the game. “We know some games you don’t really have the legs. In those games we have to make sure that we have our heads, and we have to make sure that we communicate even more.”

Staying mentally tough is often the only way to generate the energy needed on those days when you just don’t feel like you have it.

“It’s more a mentality of not using it as an excuse,” Joe Ingles said. “I think if you start talking about it and thinking about it then you’re automatically going to come out a bit slower and a step behind. We did that, but we were able to overcome it.”

They way the Jazz overcame their early game lethargy was with a game of mental chess.

Mitchell didn’t care that he was missing shots, instead he was paying attention to how the defense was covering him and taking notes.

“I thought they were going to be in drop coverage and they blitzed so it kind of took me by surprise,” he said. “It’s about adjusting, not just for myself to score but getting guys involved, finding ways to make the simple play.”

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Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) drives to the basket past Orlando Magic forward Chuma Okeke (3) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. 

Joe Skipper, AP

Mitchell came out in the second half with an attack plan, and scored 25 points through the final 28 minutes of the game. The Jazz’s defense continued to hold strong and eventually the shots started falling.

“I still felt like we put our energy on defense,” Gobert said. “When we do that, regardless of if we’re tired, if we not tired, we’re going to be in a position to beat anybody on any given night.”

Things aren’t going to get easier for the Jazz as the season progresses. After they come back from the All-Star break — which will be even less of a break for All-Stars Mitchell and Gobert — the Jazz will open the second half of the season with a single game at home followed by a five-game road trip. They’ll face a schedule that features eight back-to-back sets between March 26 and May 8.

So the lessons learned about staying mentally engaged, even when the energy isn’t there, are going to be valuable as the Jazz work toward maintaining their position as the team with the best record in the league.