The Utah Jazz will find out who their first-round playoff opponent is late Friday night. They’ll have Saturday to prepare as much as they can and then Game 1 is on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
The turnaround is tight.
“It’s really different,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said on Thursday. “Some teams, they’ve known who they’re playing since early in the week. Their preparation is going to look very different from ours. Not knowing who you’re playing, you want to work, you’re ready to go, but at the same time be really smart about what it is that you’re doing.”
So what is it that the Jazz have been doing since the regular season ended on Sunday? First and foremost the players had two full days of rest.
With Mike Conley sidelined for two weeks preceding the final two games of the season with hamstring soreness and Donovan Mitchell missing the final 16 games of the season with a sprained right ankle, other players on the team were asked to carry more responsibility, produce at a higher level, and play more minutes than they normally would have. Giving them time to rest and receive treatment was of the utmost importance.
When the regular season ended, the field of potential first-round opponents for the Jazz was only narrowed down to four teams — the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs.
Behind the scenes the Jazz have scouts and coaching staff that have game plans for all potential opponents, but to dive too deep into each wouldn’t have been a wise use of anyone’s time. And, if we’re being completely honest, the Jazz knew just as well as anyone else that they would most likely end up playing the Lakers or the Warriors.
So, as the play-in tournament began, Snyder and his staff focused their energy on what the Jazz need to do — where they need to tighten things, situations in which they can execute with better accuracy.
Now that the Jazz know they’ll be facing either the Warriors or Grizzlies, it’s easier for them to hone in on a more specific plan of action.
“We’ve tried to set it up in a way where we’ve not only focused on our potential opponent, and, we’ve got to a pivotal point where we feel like we can move quickly when we find out who that is,” Snyder said. “The fact that there’s two teams now reduces it where you can do more on each team and splitting some of that work. ... That also requires planning and decision-making. So you kind of go broad and then you eventually narrow it in.”
In addition to preparing for their opponent, the Jazz will also have other priorities regarding Conley and Mitchell. They need to make sure that Mitchell, who returned to practice for the first time on Thursday, responds well to increased activity and isn’t having too much lingering pain in his right ankle.
“The biggest thing is trying to see how I respond after practice today, next practice and then when you get to Game 1, it’s go time,” Mitchell said.
Same goes for Conley, who likely needs to continue to be cautious, so as to not aggravate his hamstring.
The team also needs to reincorporate Conley and Mitchell into things, make sure the players are all on the same page and head into the postseason with some sense of continuity.
All of this has to be accomplished between now and Sunday. It’s a tall order, but the Jazz have no choice in the matter. Ready or not, the playoffs are here.