When the NBA schedule makers were looking at the second half of the season, they needed to fit in two games between the reigning champions and this season’s winningest team. That was a recipe for a perfect Saturday/Monday slate of consecutive contests between the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz on national TV.
Of course, when the league planned on this ESPN lineup, it didn’t know that the Lakers would be without LeBron James and Anthony Davis and that the Jazz would be dealing with their first major injury while allowing much of their main rotation to recuperate from minor bumps and bruises.
But Donovan Mitchell, who suffered a significant right ankle sprain on Friday and will be out for at least a week, Mike Conley (right knee soreness), Rudy Gobert (right knee contusion) and Derrick Favors (right ankle sprain) were all ruled out for Saturday’s game against the Lakers, leaving the Jazz with just two of their regular starters and without their starting or reserve centers.
“It puts some other guys in position to be more aggressive and have a greater usage,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said before the game. “We’ve had that periodically this year. We haven’t had it like we have tonight obviously with multiple guys out, so that’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles and Ersan Ilyasova were inserted into the Jazz starting lineup alongside Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale.
Though Snyder and his staff are more than happy to give guys a game off here and there to regain their legs and get some respite from the grinding 2021 schedule, there is also the nagging feeling that there are valuable lessons to be learned through the final month of the season.
“We’ve been, probably more than any other team this season, really consistent with a nine-man rotation ... so this is a little bit new for us,” Snyder said. “You want to be fresh at the end of the year, but where we are, I want to be able to continue to see who we have and how we connect in the next month.”
It’s not just about continuity and heading into the postseason with some rhythm. The Jazz are already in playoff preparation mode, and getting insight into how other teams will be defending them is at the forefront of Snyder’s mind
“You’re able to anticipate the way that teams will try to play you,” Snyder said. “I think teams will game plan for us in ways that are unique, and having our full complement of players allows us to experience some of those things.”
At least for the foreseeable future, the Jazz will have to try to get as much insight as possible without Mitchell and will likely have to sit players strategically so that they can deliver a healthy roster to the playoffs.