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'I'm excited to watch those games': Jazz looking forward to week off as they await 1st-round opponent

Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) and center Rudy Gobert (27) talk as the Utah Jazz and the Houston Rockets play an NBA basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 8, 2021.

(Annie Barker, Deseret News)



SALT LAKE CITY — At this point, Quin Snyder's preparation is the stuff of legend.

His players have long joked about his sleepless nights and praised him for his elaborate game plans. Nothing brings that out more than the playoffs. But what happens when you don't know who you're going to play?

That's the question Snyder and his staff have to work through this week. As the West's No. 1 seed, the Jazz won't know their first-round opponent until Friday — likely just two days before they open up a series. That makes it a little hard to game plan.

"When you don't know who you play, you end up having to have more breadth in your scouting, and maybe you're not able to get as in-depth," Snyder said. "Or at least you have to assign more guys on your staff to be looking at certain teams."

Four teams to be exact.

Here's a quick refresher of the three-game Play-In Tournament that will reveal Utah's first-round matchup.

  • Game 1: The No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers will play the No. 8 Golden State Warriors with the winner earning the No. 7 seed and the right to play Phoenix. The losing team will get another chance at the playoffs in the third game of the tournament.
  • Game 2: No. 9 Memphis Grizzlies will play the No. 10 San Antonio Spurs, with the winner advancing to the third game. The loser is eliminated.
  • Game 3: The loser of Game 1 vs. the winner of Game 2. The winning team will advance to play the Jazz.

"Those games are gonna be fun to watch," Rudy Gobert said. "I'm excited to watch those games. Whoever we face, we know that it's gonna be a long journey, and we're gonna be ready."

There are plenty of seasons where the difference between the No. 7 seed and No. 10 seed is minimal — this is not one of those years. The Jazz could be looking at facing the defending champion Lakers, who were on top of the conference before injuries derailed them, or a Golden State team with the league's best scorer and plenty of championship pedigree.

That's a bit different than the upstart Grizzlies and a sliding Spurs squad. So it's going to be fun, yes, but also quite stressful for many Jazz fans.

But the big advantage Utah will have over any of the potential opponents is rest. The Jazz will have full week off. Their opponent will likely have less than a couple days.

So while there will obviously be some preparation from the Jazz's scouting team, the players say the best course of action for this week is focusing on themselves. They have a week to get healthy and rested after a truncated season that piled up the games one after the other. They see it as a chance to reset and recharge — all while watching teams play what will likely be intense and emotionally-draining games in order to face them.

"For most of the guys, it's trying to get them to take a day off, let everything kind of settle in, spend time with your family," Mike Conley said. "We've worked very hard. It's been a long year — basically feels like a year and a half, we've just been going and going since the bubble. So just enjoy a day and come back locked in.

"Obviously with the play-in tournament, we won't know who we're going to play until later in the week but, for us, it's get our bodies right, get our conditioning together, get our timing together, continue to work together and keep our mind on what's coming up next."

When it comes to getting healthy, the spotlight is shining brightly on Donovan Mitchell. The All-Star guard averaged a career-high 26.4 points and 5.2 assists in 53 games this season, but hasn't played since suffering an ankle sprain on April 16.

"It's something that Don's thinking about, we're all thinking about — him coming back and making sure that everything is laid out for him to where he can come back and just fit in like he always has," Conley said.

Conley, who missed nine games late in the season himself as he dealt with a tight hamstring, provided an optimistic outlook on Mitchell's status after Utah's season-finale win. Mitchell will be re-evaluated before the playoffs begin next weekend.

"He's the guy, he knows he's the guy; he knows he's gonna take us as far as we want to go when he's healthy — and he's getting there," Conley said. "He's excited and feeling good. We know he's gonna do well on our team, he's a guy that's unselfish and we're gonna do whatever we can to make it easy on him during the week to get him back in shape, get him back ready to go and I'm sure he'll be as confident ready as ever."

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