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Think Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert will have chemistry problems on the court? Think again

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) talk after a timeout as the Utah Jazz and the Miami Heat play in an NBA basketball game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. Utah won 116-101.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) talk after a timeout as the Utah Jazz and the Miami Heat play in an NBA basketball game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. Utah won 116-101.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Rudy Gobert was asked after the Utah Jazz’s Saturday scrimmage against the Miami Heat if too much was made of the tiff between him and Donovan Mitchell over the NBA’s hiatus.

Even though Gobert was wearing a mask, it was clear he was smirking as the question was being asked, as it is one that he and Mitchell have had to address many times.

“People didn’t have much to talk about for months — that was kind of the topic of the moment,” Gobert said after chuckling. “Now that we’re back playing, I think it’s time to put it behind us. ... I hope there’s some more interesting topics to talk about.”

Here’s an interesting talking point: Gobert scored 21 points in the Jazz’s win over the Heat, six of which came on lob passes from Mitchell.

The two would have connected for another lob score midway through the third if not for a mistimed pass from Mitchell and slow reaction from Gobert. On that play, Gobert patted himself on the chest while looking at Mitchell as if to say, “My bad, I should have gone up earlier.”

So, if you were worried about lingering frustration or tension from off-court drama impacting how Mitchell and Gobert coexist on the hardwood or that their relationship would be fractured at the expense of on-court chemistry, don’t worry.

As a matter of fact, there was a lot that happened in the Jazz’s second scrimmage that should ease concerns of fans as the team ramps up for the NBA’s season restart. After a defensively wonky game against Phoenix on Thursday with Mitchell looking like the only one who had things going on the offensive end, Saturday’s game showed exponential improvement.

Right out of the gate there was a clearly boosted level of defensive intensity that led to a lot of transition and early shot-clock opportunities for the Jazz.

“I think we kind of touched a level that we haven’t been on, particularly defensively at the start of the game,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said.

Not only that, but everyone seemed to have a better feel for each other and the pacing of the game. Although Mitchell and Mike Conley found multiple scoring opportunities in the first half, both were coming up empty with shots falling short or rimming out.

Rather than let that affect their roles as distributers, they became more deliberate and methodical as playmakers. Additionally, Gobert said that he made a point to come off screens a little quicker against the Heat than he did against the Suns, giving the guards a better chance at hitting him on the roll.

“Both Mike and Don had great patience in the lane,” Snyder said. “A lot of times because of their patience in the lane they were drawing people and then they had Rudy for the lob or whatever may be there. I think for our guards to be aggressive to look to score and then also have the patience to let a play unfold, ... it’s not as easy sometimes as we try to make it sound. Our guards in the lane were good and they can make it look easy sometimes and it’s just not.”

Although Miami was playing without Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, their shooting bigs Meyers Leonard and Kelly Olynyk, who both shoot better than 41% from deep, are a tough matchup for the Jazz. On top of the defensive difficulty the front court presented, Mitchell and Conley combined for just seven points in the first half.

Despite all of that, the Jazz were able to stay engaged on the defensive end and with scoring help from across the board — including 11 first-half points from Jordan Clarkson — the Jazz were able to build a lead.

“I think all of us were more locked in,” Gobert said. “The first game was a little weird just being back out there and getting back to basketball, that game was weird. I just think we’re sharper mentally. I could feel it from the get-go.”

Mitchell and Conley were able to get shots to fall in the third quarter and the young guns at the end of the bench came in to close out the game.

Like Thursday’s game against Phoenix, the scrimmage against the Heat was not about who won or lost. The Jazz were intent on improving, focusing on themselves and sticking to their principles, all of which they did.

None of this is to say that there still won’t be rust when after the third and final scrimmage, or even during the eight seeding games that start on July 30 and count toward playoff positioning. There will most likely still be kinks to work out. But the change in temperament, effort and execution on Saturday was a good sign.

The Jazz will take the day off on Sunday and play their final scrimmage against the Brooklyn Nets at 3:30 p.m. MDT on Monday.