Jazz react to news that Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic might play in Game 3
With the best-of-7 series tied 1-1, entertaining series moves to Salt Lake City on Thursday for Game 3 with all eyes on the status of NBA MVP candidate Luka Doncic
As a media relations employee fiddled with an uncooperative microphone in front of him at a news conference Wednesday, coach Quin Snyder quipped that the Utah Jazz are dealing with a lot bigger issues than a balky mic.
Obviously, several of those problems are the role players for the Dallas Mavericks, who got phenomenal performances from Jalen Brunson, Maxi Kleber, Spencer Dinwiddie and others in the absence of superstar Luka Doncic to beat the Jazz 110-104 on Monday and even the best-of-seven series at 1-1.
Game 3 tips off at 7 p.m. MDT Thursday night at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City and will be televised by NBATV.
Of course, the big question surrounding the Jazz is if they can rediscover their perimeter defense, keep Brunson and company from driving almost uncontested to the hoop, and stop the Mavs’ flurry of 3-pointers.
“I think we have been conscious of the fact that at some point (Luka Doncic) is going to come back in the series. That may or may not happen again. I don’t think you can predict that entirely.” — Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder
The big question for the Mavericks is whether Doncic, who missed the first two games with a left calf strain, will play in Game 3. Doncic practiced a little bit in Dallas Wednesday before meeting with reporters to provide an update on his health.
“Today and yesterday, I did a little bit,” he told the Dallas Morning News. “We shouldn’t rush anything, but step-by-step, I think I am improving a lot, and I’m getting better.”
Doncic said he is “doing a lot of treatment, man,” and repeated that he is “tired of just laying down and doing treatment.”
Coach Jason Kidd also spoke to reporters before the Mavs boarded a plane bound for Salt Lake City, and said he doesn’t know yet whether the 6-foot-7 Slovenian will play in Game 3 Thursday, let alone Game 4 Saturday afternoon.
“He is doing the work that the medical staff has asked him to do, and there hasn’t been any setback,” Kidd said. “He feels great, so I think he just continues to come in with that good attitude that at some point, he’ll get that green light to play.”
Naturally, the Jazz are also interested in Doncic’s status, because their game plan hinges on it in some ways, Snyder acknowledged.
“As I have said, from the first week, prior to Game 1, that (Doncic) is a focus of your preparation (even) not knowing if he is going to play,” Snyder said. “I think we have been conscious of the fact that at some point he is going to come back in the series. That may or may not happen again. I don’t think you can predict that entirely.”
Jazz guard Mike Conley, who has his own troubles to worry about after going 0 for 7 while playing just 22 minutes due to foul trouble in Game 2, said Utah’s game plan starts with “be better and work harder” no matter who’s playing. But the former Ohio State star acknowledged that Doncic is a unique talent who brings “gravity to a game” with his versatility.
“His ability to make plays is (impressive),” Conley said. “He is probably one of the best in the league at doing it, with his size. He is doing a lot of what Brunson and those guys do. They get into the paint and then they keep their feet, they pump fake a couple of times, and then they throw it out and find a guy open.”
Conley said Doncic, who averages 28.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game, is “one of the best in the world” at reading those situations and making the right decision with the ball.
“His scoring ability is up there with the best in the league as well. So it adds another challenge to it, but we are still confident in what we can do defensively,” Conley said. “We are still confident as a team that we can go out there and execute our game plan.”
An official report from the Mavericks Wednesday afternoon listed Doncic as “questionable” for Game 3. Dallas Morning News beat writer Brad Townsend tweeted that questionable “generally means 50-50 chance of playing, pending how the player’s pregame warmup goes.”
Doncic was listed as “doubtful” the first two games. The Jazz, meanwhile, are fairly healthy. Conley said he had to briefly leave Monday’s game to get an ankle retaped, but said it had “zero” to do with how he played.
“I tweaked it and just wanted to get it wrapped up real quickly,” he said, half laughing, “and then ran back out there and fouled right away.”
Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Jordan Clarkson and Bojan Bogdanovic all struggled to stop dribble penetration Monday, as Brunson scored 41 points and Kleber 25 on 8-of-11 shooting from 3-point range. Seven of those eight triples were uncontested.
“Brunson obviously played terrific,” Snyder said. “The way that they played, they are obviously seeking the 3. I mean, they have been very transparent about that. It is a little ironic because that is something that we have wanted to do, and we haven’t been able to do it the way that we want.”
The Jazz have attempted 52 3-pointers in the two games, making 18. Dallas is a combined 31 of 79, turning the tables on the Jazz in that category.
Utah averaged 40.3 3-point attempts, second in the NBA, in the regular season. Dallas ranks eighth, at 37.4 per game.
“They are running better than us,” Snyder said. “A good portion of those 3s are coming in transition where we are not communicating the way that we want.”
One of the issues the Mavericks face, besides Doncic’s availability, is their struggles at Vivint Arena. Dallas has lost 11 straight in Salt Lake City. Utah is a 6.5-point favorite — a line that could change if it becomes apparent that Doncic will play.
Conley, who joined the Jazz in 2019 and agreed to a new 3-year, $72.5 million contract in 2021, said the Jazz’s home-court advantage is real, and gets amplified in the playoffs.
“Oh, (Jazz fans) are huge, and they know it,” Conley said Wednesday when asked about Utah’s playoff atmosphere. “This is one the toughest places, probably the toughest place to play, (in) a playoff environment, or a regular-season game. It is tough here. You got altitude, you have got the fans, you have got our team. There is so much pressure that can be built up in that arena because of how loud it gets.”
Conley said the Jazz are “looking forward to being back home and being able to play in front of our fans.”
No matter if Doncic plays or not.