SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz knew that starting point guard Mike Conley would be leaving the NBA’s bubble in Orlando at some point to be with his wife, Mary, for the birth of their third child, a son, in Columbus, Ohio.
Mary Conley’s due date was Aug. 27, but the Jazz announced that Conley left the bubble Sunday morning to go to Ohio, just more than 24 hours before Game 1 of the team’s first-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets.
Mary posted on Instagram a video of herself and newborn son on Sunday afternoon and said that she was very surprised to go into labor early, that Conley didn’t make it to Ohio in time for the birth, but that he was with her now and they were enjoying their time together before he would have to leave.
While the Jazz are obviously supportive of the Conleys being together during such a momentous time, it’s not lost on them how big a loss it is for the on-court product.
“On one side of it you’re really happy for him because he’s had another kid, him and his family are growing and obviously, from our point of view, we 100% support him going to see his family and be with his family,” teammate Joe Ingles said. “But yeah, obviously, on the flip side of that, he’s a big part of our team. So whenever Mary and Mike feel comfortable that it’s the right time for him to come back, we’ll obviously bring him in with open arms.”
As long as Conley is tested daily for COVID-19 during his stay away from the bubble, and returns negative tests, he will quarantine for four days upon his return to the bubble before rejoining his team. That means that Conley will miss at least the first two games of the first-round playoff series. If Conley were to return to the bubble on Monday he would be available to play in Game 3 on Friday.
Conley has played exceptionally well in the bubble for the Jazz, picking up where he left off when the NBA shut down in March and admitting that he finally feels at ease in Quin Snyder’s system and that he’s playing with joy. For as long as Conley is away, that means the Jazz will be without two regular starters against the Nuggets, him and forward Bojan Bogdanovic.
When asked what the news of Conley’s departure would mean for Denver, head coach Mike Malone said his first thought was that of congratulations for the Conleys. His next thought was not to equate this absence as any sort of advantage for the Nuggets.
“If Mike Conley is not available, then I’m sure other guys will step up,” Malone said. “We were able to go into Utah this year and win with seven guys. If Mike Conley is not available that means more Donovan Mitchell, who is an All-NBA caliber player.”
“Joe’s a heck of a player and he’s a very good playmaker. They use Joe’s size, playmaking and passing ability to get into the lane and find Gobert rolling or spray out to their 3-point shooters.” — Nuggets coach Mike Malone
It also could mean more of Ingles handling the ball, which is actually something that concerns the Nuggets more than the casual observer might think.
Ingles’ ability in the pick-and-roll and his facilitating skill-set is not a secret and Malone has made no secret of the fact that Ingles’ playmaking has hurt them in the past and is something that concerns him in this playoff series.
“I think Joe is one of the keys to this series,” Malone said. “Someone I think will be a real X-factor in determining this series ... I think we’ve done a good job guarding him in our three head-to-head matchups, but he is averaging close to nine assists a game against us.”
Ingles’ unique ability as a point-forward, his pick-and-roll chemistry with Rudy Gobert, and his ability to pass out of the paint, are all things that the Nuggets will be looking to stop and stop as early as possible. If Ingles is able to drive and kick out to a 3-point shooter, it feeds right into one of the Nuggets’ weakest points, perimeter defense.
“Joe’s a heck of a player and he’s a very good playmaker,” Malone said. “They use Joe’s size, playmaking and passing ability to get into the lane and find Gobert rolling or spray out to their 3-point shooters.”
Being down two starters is also not a foreign concept for the Nuggets, who have been without Gary Harris and Will Barton throughout the seeding games in the bubble, and will be without the both of them in Game 1 on Monday.