SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz’s injury report for Friday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs is a doozy.
Starters Mike Conley (right knee soreness), Rudy Gobert (rest), Donovan Mitchell (left peroneal strain) and Royce O’Neale (right calf soreness) are all listed as out along with Nigel Williams-Goss (left ankle sprain). The remaining member of the Jazz’s starting unit, Joe Ingles, is also listed on the injury report with right foot soreness but with the designation of “available” to play.
Basketball players often have multiple bumps and bruises and minor injuries that they play through. But for many, this drastic change in player availability could give off the vibe of a team wanting to rest its stars on the first night of a back-to-back set, especially since it would be frowned upon by the league to list almost the entirety of a starting unit as “resting.”
Again, that’s not to say that these injuries aren’t real. After all, teams are required to send documentation and examination information to the league for any injury that would lead to a player missing a game. But if a player is experiencing normal soreness that he plays through on a regular basis, and that he would play through if the game had greater significance, it gives a team an easy route to diagnose so that the team isn’t in violation of the league’s resting policy.
Speaking of the resting policy, the league hasn’t said how the fanless Orlando bubble would impact penalization.
In a memo sent to teams in November of 2019, the league reminded teams of its resting policy, which does not allow for healthy players to rest in high profile, nationally televised games. The NBA also told teams not to rest multiple healthy players in a single game, unless there were “unusual circumstances.”
The resting policy is largely an effort to keep fans who are in arenas happy about seeing stars up close. But there are no fans in the bubble, and if the bubble doesn’t scream “unusual circumstances,” what does?
If the Jazz are in fact resting the majority of their starters, and the injuries are minor and not cause for concern, what reason would they have for resting them? Well, they could just want to give them the first night of a two-game set off, let the heavy-minute guys have an extra day of rest and write in a loss to the Spurs before playing the third-seed Denver Nuggets. It could be that simple.
The move could also be more strategic in nature. If the Jazz were to drop to the sixth seed in the Western Conference, they could face the Nuggets in the playoffs. Whether the Nuggets are a favorable matchup for the Jazz is debatable, but you know what the Nuggets are not? They aren’t the Houston Rockets and they aren’t led by Chris Paul, now guard of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Jazz are currently bobbing between fourth and fifth in the West, which is looking more and more like a sure-fire way to end up facing the Thunder and Paul, who has been the face of so many of the Jazz’s recent playoff losses. Win a few more games and the Jazz could end up third in the West, still with a high probability of playing Houston or OKC. But, if they drop down and manage to stay above the seventh seed Dallas Mavericks, the Jazz could control their playoff destiny a little more.
There’s nothing to suggest that playoff positioning is the Jazz’s motivation here, but there’s also nothing to suggest that it isn’t. It would be a risky move, especially considering that so few games separate the teams being discussed, but it’s also one of the few ways that a team can control their playoff chances.
It’s a bit of a funny coincidence that four of the Jazz’s best players will be sitting out against the Spurs, whose coach Gregg Popovich prompted the league to levy a $250,000 fine back in 2012 for resting multiple stars in a nationally televised contest against the LeBron James-led Miami Heat.
It’s also a funny coincidence that the one starter who is not listed as out is Ingles, who holds the longest active streak for consecutive games played in the NBA at 372 and prides himself on being one of the league’s iron men.
Coincidences and motivations aside, the Jazz are going to have their work cut out for them on Friday against the Spurs with a possible starting lineup of Ingles, Tony Bradley, Georges Niang, Jordan Clarkson and Emmanuel Mudiay, and a bench unit of Ed Davis, Juwan Morgan, Rayjon Tucker, Miye Oni, Jarrell Brantley and Justin Wright-Foreman.