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Utah Jazz vs. Los Angeles Clippers Game 1 preview: How will Jazz adjust with Conley out of the lineup?

Jazz announced Tuesday the Utah guard will be unavailable for opener of the series

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley smiles as he and teammate Bojan Bogdanovic talk during timeout at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City.
Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley smiles as he and teammate Bojan Bogdanovic talk during a timeout against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. A nagging hamstring injury will keep Conley in street clothes Tuesday night.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The Utah Jazz announced Tuesday morning that Mike Conley would not play in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers.

The All-Star veteran guard suffered a mild right hamstring strain in Game 5 of the Jazz’s first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies, and although he went through portions of practice Monday, he was not cleared to return to play.

Conley averaged 17.4 points and 8.6 assists while shooting 46.7% overall, 54.8% from 3-point range and 100% from the free-throw line in five games against the Grizzlies. Here are three things the Jazz will need to focus on with Conley unable to play.

Ball movement and spacing

Against a switching defense like the one the Clippers employ, the best weapon is ball movement. To avoid the ball sticking and being forced into isolation plays, the Jazz will need to be more thoughtful and deliberate with their drive-and-kicks and swinging the ball around. Conley is very good at attacking switches and making the right reads. Without him, it means that the Jazz’s ball movement and spacing must be even better than before.

“The big thing for us, as we do spread offensive responsibility across the board, is that we have to be efficient,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We have to not turn the ball over against a team that are so long, and they’re so good defensively — not just on the ball, but I think they don’t get enough credit for what they do off the ball. They really shrink the court, and that means that you have to be unbelievably precise in your spacing and your timing, how quickly you get off the ball.”

Jordan Clarkson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale as playmakers

Conley is one of the best playmakers in the league, and he consistently is able to find the open man by creating space with precise movement in drives and in the pick-and-roll. While there will be more responsibility put on the usual suspects of Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles when it comes to creating for the rest of the team, the other less traditional playmakers will have to pick up some of the slack.

“It kind of draws me into making more plays for my teammates, looking to stay aggressive but still continue to move the ball,” Clarkson said Tuesday morning. “(Mike is) another guy that we have that kind of starts off the blender for us, so we have to really step into that role of getting into the paint, making plays for others and getting other guys open shots.”

Joe Ingles’ responsibility grows

Ingles didn’t have a very good series against the Grizzlies. But, the Jazz were clearly the better team, and they were able to come out on top without having much production or putting a huge defensive load on Ingles’ shoulders. That’s not the case against the Clippers, especially with Conley sidelined.

Ingles will likely be tasked with guarding Paul George through the majority of the game, a matchup that he has done well with in the past, but he’ll have to take on tougher assignments as the Clippers start forcing switches.

In addition to the defensive load, Ingles will need to be more aggressive offensively to make up for the absence of Conley. That means creating and running the pick-and-roll and also looking for his shot early and often.

Game 1 tips off at Vivint Arena at 8 p.m. MDT on TNT.