SALT LAKE CITY — When the other members of the Utah Jazz starting lineup sat out with an array of non-serious injuries (or in Rudy Gobert’s case, just some rest) last week, Joe Ingles played.
When Donovan Mitchell missed Monday’s loss to the Mavericks for mostly precautionary reseaons, Ingles played.
And when Mike Conley and Gobert miss Thursday’s final seeding game due to what the Jazz say is some soreness, Ingles will play.
Of course, he will. The Jazz forward is the NBA's active leader in consecutive games played (a streak that now stands at 375 regular-season games) and not even Utah’s great tank job of 2020 has been able to stop that.
“Because I get paid to play basketball,” Ingles said. “Again, it's my job, it's what I love to do. When I was playing as a kid for lollipops — that was the first thing that ever got me on a court. ... I loved it ever since. I'm not playing for stats or for numbers or the history book... I love to play and Quin (Snyder) knows that.”
So Ingles will keep on keepin’ on Thursday when the Jazz meet the Spurs (Thursday, 4:30 p.m., TNT) in their final tuneup for the postseason. Well, at least he will for the beginning of the game. There are no promises he’ll be finishing.
In fact, that would come as a surprise as the Jazz's actions have made it plenty clear they want to avoid Houston — which can finish no higher than No. 4 — in the first round. A loss on Thursday would give the Jazz the No. 6 seed, ensuring they won’t be seeing the Rockets anytime soon.
And with Gobert and Conley being declared out, that appears to be the result the Jazz want.
The last week has been a delicate balance for the Jazz of preparing for the playoffs and, um, let’s call it strategic resting. Which is why it’s not as simple as looking at Utah’s recent record to determining how ready it is for the playoffs.
The Jazz have lost three straight and five of the last six heading into Thursday, but even with the losses piling up, there’s confidence growing. Utah has shot over 40% from 3-point range in each of its last four games, regaining the shooting form that made it the second-best 3-point shooting team in the NBA.
Ingles is 14 of 29 from deep during that stretch and Georges Niang is 7 of 9 in the last two games. Niang was 3 of 23 from behind the arc in the first five games in the bubble. Utah has also got the chance to give Miye Oni, Jarrell Brantley and Rayjon Tucker some meaningful minutes in games against NBA rotation players — something that could prove to be beneficial come playoff time. So, to them, improvement is happening.
“I think the biggest thing for us is continuing to do what we've been doing,” Mitchell said. “I mean, obviously, when you have guys in and out of the lineup, it's tough but the biggest thing is being rested mentally and physically ready for the playoffs.”
By resting, the Jazz should be physically ready. And by tanking, they might have just helped their mental state, too. Fans didn’t want to see the Rockets for a third straight year in the playoffs; the Jazz didn’t either.
But can you really be playing your best basketball (which the Jazz have said is their goal of the seeding games) while tanking (which the Jazz, of course, have not admitted to)? Yes, the shooting has come around, but there are other issues plaguing Utah.
Mitchell pointed to the team’s struggles with defensive rebounding and how teams have gotten into the paint far too easily since the NBA's restart. Those are things the Jazz need to shore up to have a chance in the playoffs. But that’s hard to do with Gobert, Conley and likely others watching from the bench.
“I think from Game 1 to Game 7, we’ve got a lot better,” Ingles said. “I think we played some really good halves, some really good games, good quarters. Obviously, against Denver, executing down the stretch in some tight situations — it was a really good game for us to be in.”
For Ingles, though, any game is a good one to be in.
“I'm very, very realistic that people are coming to watch the Jazz to see Donovan, to see Rudy, and probably to see Quin more than they come in to see me,” Ingles said. “But I will say somewhere in the world — in Australia, maybe my family — someone's paid for the virtual seat to the game, maybe they've saved up for months and months to come to Vivint (Arena) one time, and I might be that kid's favorite player. And I want to be out there to make that one kid's kind of dream come true to see me or to say hi to me or whatever it is.”