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Mike Conley still hopes to return to 2nd round series after 'small setback' has kept him out

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) eyes the basket as he goes up for and hits a three point shot as the Utah Jazz and the Sacramento Kings play an NBA basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 10, 2021.

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) eyes the basket as he goes up for and hits a three point shot as the Utah Jazz and the Sacramento Kings play an NBA basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 10, 2021. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)



SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley will miss the team's Game 5 matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday with a right hamstring strain that has kept him out for the entirety of the Western Conference semifinal series.

On Wednesday afternoon, Conley provided some clarity about what has been a frustrating process.

It's been two weeks since Conley re-aggravated a strain that originally occurred in February. It was initially met with optimism. The Jazz labeled it as a "mild" strain, and Conley said it didn't feel as bad as the other hamstring tweaks that forced him to miss time throughout the season.

But on the day of Game 2, Conley suffered what he called "a small setback."

"It was similar, but kind of went down a little bit further," he said of the setback. "So it was just kind of stretched out a little bit longer range from just the spot that was initially sore. So, as far as that's concerned, it's almost like the initial spot is feeling a lot better. And now, as it went down further, trying to get that to, to let go a little bit and heal."

Before the setback, Conley had been expecting and preparing to return in Game 3 of the series, giving the Jazz exactly what they needed as the Clippers changed coverages and swarmed Donovan Mitchell.

Now, there's no timetable — he just hopes it's sooner rather than later.

While he won't be playing in Wednesday's pivotal Game 5, Conley wouldn't rule out returning sometime in the series. The Jazz and Clippers are tied 2-2 with Game 6 on Friday. A potential Game 7 would be on Sunday.

"For me, I've played through a lot of things in my career and wouldn't hesitate to do it again," Conley said. "I would love to be out there every one of these games but going forward, there's a balance of doing what's right for our team, and thinking about our goals going forward."

Conley said he's been evaluated on a day-to-day basis as he tries to get back. He's taken a couple of days off to let everything calm down on the strained hamstring, only to run on it and feel it flare up again.

"You just kind of really honestly have to wake up in the morning and hope that it's gone at this point, or hope that it's at a reasonable level of play," Conley said. "I'm not going to be 100% when I try to come back for sure."

The Jazz, though, don't want him to be a shell of himself — like James Harden was when he played on his injured hamstring in Brooklyn's Game 5 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday — and don't want him to quickly injure it again causing him to miss more time and potentially another series.

"To be sitting here right now still not playing, I'm probably the most frustrated person that you'll run into in a day," Conley said. "… But if you push it too far, you might have another setback or be out longer, and if we are able to get out of this round and you're going forward, you don't want to miss multiple series because of an injury that you could have managed a little bit better."

The problem is what Conley really needs to heal the hamstring is the one thing he or Jazz don't have: time.

"We don't have that but at the same time we're expediting it as quickly as we can," he said.

The Jazz have been without their All-Star point guard and now the Clippers will be without All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard after he sustained a knee injury on Game 4 that will keep him out indefinitely.

"That's not news you want to hear, at any point," Conley said. "... We know the kind of talent Kawhi is and what he brings to the series and for the team that he's on. Obviously, we can't look at this as a reason to exhale reason to kind of lower level at all, because that team is as deep a team you'll go against. ...They still have stars on that team that can carry them to wins."

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