SALT LAKE CITY — On Saturday, the Jazz will get their first-look at Luka Doncic this season. Actually, scratch that. It’ll be the first time they’ll play him — but they have seen him. He's been hard to miss.
“There's guys you’re watching,” Mike Conley said. “Luka's on TV. I think a lot of us are watching; he's doing something different every night. Same way with seasons like when Russell Westbrook was averaging a triple-double or MVP-season James Harden. Those guys, it was easy to tune in.”
Doncic might not win the MVP this season — he’ll likely have Giannis Antetokounmpo’s continued brilliance to thank for that — but just the fact that the 20-year-old is in the conversation speaks to how he has taken the league by storm.
In his second season, he has the Mavericks in the midst of a playoff chase by averaging 29.1 points, 9.6 rebounds and 9.0 assists. And on Thursday, he was named as an All-Star starter.
“It was amazing,” Doncic said following the Mavericks’ win over Portland. “Something that I never thought was going to happen in my life. It was just something really special. I got really emotional. I used to dream, as a kid, (of) just being in the NBA; now I can play in the All-Star game.”
He'll be the sixth-youngest player to start the midseason showcase, and the youngest to do so since LeBron James in 2005. That's pretty good company.
“Being that young and doing what he's doing, you don't see that very often,” Conley said. “That's a testament to his skill set and his work ethic and the things that he's able to accomplish so far. So he's special, he really is. The NBA knows it, the world knows it, and we got to deal with it tomorrow.”
If it feels like it’s been a while since the Jazz have faced off against one of the elite players in the league, that’s because it's true. The last time the Jazz played one of the 10 All-Star starters was back on Dec. 27, when they played Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers.
That’s partially due to a weird quirk in Utah’s schedule. The Jazz have played 44 games, thus far, and have yet to see Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Denver — teams that currently occupy four of the Western Conference playoff spots.
The Jazz’s next four games: Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Denver.
“It is unusual for it to be this late — middle to late January — to finally get a sense of these guys, the Dallases and the Houstons and all those teams,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “But we’ve played some really good teams early in the year, and we’ve got to test ourselves against them. So we’re just looking forward to each challenge and each team coming up.”
The challenge starts with Doncic and the Mavericks on Saturday in a 3 p.m. matinee game at Vivint Arena.
“Man, he's impressive,” Conley said. “He's got everything in this game. His size and skill. He's one of the few players that can do what he can do. So it's gonna be a tough challenge for all of us. So we're definitely locked in and trying to figure out a way to try to slow him down the best we can.”