UTAH JAZZ

Jazz Preparing For Game One Against Nuggets Without Conley

Aug 16, 2020, 1:11 PM
Mike Conley (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)...
Mike Conley (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah –ย The Utah Jazz are preparing to open the NBA playoffs Monday without the services of guard Mike Conley. Conley left the NBA bubble Sunday to be with his wife Mary Peluso for the birth of their son. Now, the already short-handed Jazz have to prepare for game one of their first-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets down two starters.

Conley has been a significant contributor for the Jazz inside the NBA bubble, averaging 18 points, five rebounds, and three assists, helping fill the void left by forward Bojan Bogdanovic. The Croatian sharpshooter underwent season-ending wrist surgery in May.

The Jazz will now likely turn to guard Joe Ingles at point guard to fill Conley’s absence. Ingles was moved into the starting lineup for the Jazz in early-December when Conley was sidelined by a hamstring injury and helped lead the team during their best stretch of basketball of the season.

The Jazz had a record of 12-9 through December 2 when Conley went down with the injury. After Ingles moved into the starting lineup, the Jazz went 16-4 with Conley absent from the lineup. In total, the Jazz went 18-6 in games Conley missed before entering the Orlando bubble.

Ingles said he’s comfortable filling in at point guard while Conley is away from the team.

“When Mike was out earlier in the year, me and Donovan [Mitchell] had more of that responsibility playing the point,” Ingles said. “So I’m comfortable doing that. I’ve done it for my whole career at different points.”

Ingles averaged 15.3 points, 5.9 assists, and four rebounds in Conley’s 20 game absence. More importantly, the versatile guard shot a blazing 51 percent from the floor and the three-point line during the stretch.

Who Replaces Conley In Starting Lineup?

Jazz coach Quin Snyder will have to decide who will move into the starting lineup in Conley’s absence. The likely candidates are veteran sixth man Jordan Clarkson or rookie wing Miye Oni. Clarkson has started each of the last two games for the Jazz in absences from Mitchell and Conley.

Clarkson has been a standout for the Jazz against the Nuggets this season. The mid-year acquisition is averaging a season-high 24 points per game against Denver while shooting 58 percent from both the field and the three-point line.

The high scoring sixth man said he doesn’t see much difference in where his time on the floor comes from.

“It doesn’t matter. Minute are minutes when I am on the court,” Clarkson said. “I try to impact the game when I am out there. I don’t look at it as starting or coming off the bench.”

Meanwhile, Oni has seen his first real NBA minutes inside the bubble for the Jazz. The rookie made appearances in five of the Jazz eight seeding games, including each of the last four. The guard averaged eight points, 3.3 rebounds, and one assist in 23 minutes per game over his last four appearances.

The Jazz could prefer to push Oni into the starting lineup along more talented teammates to mask his inexperience on the floor. The team’s second unit struggled during the early seeding games in Orlando and would be nearly depleted without Clarkson to lead the way.

The Jazz could also opt to combat the Nuggets larger lineups in game one by inserting either Tony Bradley or Georges Niang into he startling lineup alongside Rudy Gobert. Bradley started the final seeding game for the Jazz in the absence of Gobert, while Niang started in the absence of Royce O’Neale on August 6.

How Long Will Conley Be Out?

The Jazz did not provide a timeline for Conley’s return to the bubble. Beginning Monday, the Jazz and Nugget will face off on alternating days throughout the series. Several players have left the NBA bubble to attend to family emergencies, with varying timelines of their return protocol.

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson left Orlando to attend to an unspecified family matter. The rookie returned to Orlando on July 24 and was cleared from quarantine on July 28. The rookie underwent daily testing for coronavirus while he was away from the bubble which shorted his wait time to return to the floor.

Meanwhile, Sacramento Kings center Richaun Holmes briefly crossed the NBA bubble lines to retrieve food he was having delivered in Orlando and was forced to quarantine for eight days.

Conley appeared in six of the Jazz eight games inside the bubble. According to ESPN, Conley hopes to rejoin the team in Orlando.

Jazz And Nuggets Both Shorthanded In Game One

The Jazz won’t be the only shorthanded team in the series. The Nuggets have played without starters Will Barton and Gary Harris in Orlando. While both players are with the team, neither made an appearance in any of the eight seeding games.

Barton and Harris have been replaced by guard Torrey Craig and forward Michael Porter Jr., giving Denver one of the biggest starting lineups in the NBA. However, the Nuggets have seen a steep decline defensively without their regular starters in Orlando. Denver has the worst defensive rating of any team in the bubble at 121.7.

“We’re going to kind of play who’s in front of us,” Ingles said about the Nuggets changing lineup. “Whoever’s out there if they end up bringing one of them back, two of them back, or none of them back, we’ll play whoever’s out there.”

Porter Jr. has flourished in the absence of the Nuggets’ regular starters. The rookie forward is averaging 22 points and 8.6 rebounds in seven starts in Orlando. The talented forward is shooting a blistering 55 percent from the floor and 42 percent from the three-point line in 33 minutes per game as a starter.

With Porter in the lineup, the Nuggets have seen a large jump in their offensive rebounding numbers. Denver has the third-best offensive rebounding rate among the teams in Orlando at 27.4 percent. With Porter on the floor, the Nuggets have corraled more than 30 percent of the available offensive rebounds.

Game one between the Jazz and Nuggets tips-off on Monday at 11:30 am MT. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN and locally on AT&T SportsNet.

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