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Utah Jazz eager ‘to hoop’ and work out kinks during scrimmage vs. Phoenix Suns

The Jazz will get their first taste of what basketball is really like inside the bubble when they scrimmage on Thursday.

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Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, right, talks with coach Quin Snyder during game against Chicago Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020. The Jazz will scrimmage the Suns Thursday as the NBA restart enters its next stage.

Nam Y. Huh, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — On Wednesday there was live, competitive NBA basketball being played for the first time since the league shut down on March 11. The Utah Jazz will get their first taste of what basketball is really like inside the bubble when they scrimmage against the Phoenix Suns on Thursday.

They’ve been practicing since July 8, ramping up for the restart of the season on July 30, and as part of that ramp-up each team will take part in three scrimmages. Obviously for the coaches and players there are a lot of emotions: nervousness, excitement, eagerness. But, most of all they’re just ready to get on the court and do what they love.

“Similar to the first couple days of practice here, guys were just really excited to play basketball again. I think you’ll see the same thing where players and teams are feeling good about getting back on the floor and competing, even if it’s not a seeding game.” — Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder

“We’ve waited four months to hoop so let’s go out there and do it,” Donovan Mitchell said Wednesday night. “That’s really where our heads are at.”

The hesitation and nervousness surrounding concerns related to the coronavirus have slowly dissipated over the last couple weeks as players, coaches and team personnel have seen the precautions the NBA has taken.

The NBA released a statement Wednesday saying that of the 346 players tested for COVID-19 since July 13, zero have returned positive results, further comforting the players that what they’re doing is working.

“I think everybody admittedly was a little nervous when we got here, just an unfamiliar situation,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “It’s hard to imagine the NBA doing a better job than they have. ... Similar to the first couple days of practice here, guys were just really excited to play basketball again. I think you’ll see the same thing where players and teams are feeling good about getting back on the floor and competing, even if it’s not a seeding game.”

While the scrimmages won’t count toward the regular-season record or impact playoff seedings, the games are paramount in evaluating where teams are in their progress and readiness for the season.

During practices in Florida, while making sure that the players are in game-shape and ready to compete, the Jazz have also had to tweak the playing system a little to make up for the absence of Bojan Bogdanovic. So when they hit the floor Thursday one of the main objectives will be seeing if the tweaks have worked, and if they haven’t, why not?

“The biggest thing is just try to work out the kinks,” Mitchell said. “We’ve been playing against each other for so long, it’ll be good to play against different guys, hit different guys and attack different guys. I think we’re all locked in and ready to go. I’m excited to see how we turn out.”

As Snyder explains it, every team will be looking at these scrimmages with different agendas, which can make for basketball that may not be as aesthetically pleasing to the eye as a peak playoff game, but still are just as important.

The first scrimmage each team plays will be 40 minutes in length, with 10-minute quarters, rather than the traditional 12-minute quarters and 48-minute game. Snyder said that the time difference makes it a little more difficult to try out some of the rotations that he would like to, but it won’t stop him from trying out some of the stuff the team has been working on in practice.

“For us, seeing different combinations of guys and just having an opportunity to compete, that’s what we’re looking to do,” he said. “Continue to get a little better barometer of where we are as a group.”

The nuances of the Jazz’s game plan, and what they’re hoping to get out the scrimmage is one thing, but the actual experience of playing in the bubble is something different altogether.

The NBA’s benches are spaced out, there are different rules for seating and standing during timeouts, there won’t be fans in the building, there are video boards surrounding the court and plexiglass between the scorer’s table and the court. It’ll be unlike any game they’ve ever played and there’s no way to prepare other than to get out there and experience it.

“Even if you were to be watching the entire game and studying it you can’t really get a feel for what it’s like to be there and to be playing and competing,” Snyder said. “Everyone is looking forward to not only playing but getting a feel for what playing is like under the circumstances.”

The Jazz will play the Suns at 6 p.m. MDT and the game will be broadcast on AT&T SportsNet. The broadcast team of play-by-play announcer Craig Bolerjack and the analyst team of Matt Harpring, Thurl Bailey and Kristen Kenney will work remotely from Vivint Arena.