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Utah Jazz guard Joe Ingles (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
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Gobert, Mitchell Push Jazz To Conquer Shorthanded Clippers

Utah Jazz guard Joe Ingles (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz blew out the shorthanded Los Angeles Clippers 114-96 in the first game of a two-game series on Wednesday night.

The Clippers were without both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George but gave the Jazz trouble in the first half before Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert helped the team pull away.

Gobert finished with a 23 point, 20 rebound double-double, while Mitchell scored a game-high 24 points to lead the Jazz to their ninth consecutive win and 20th in the last 21 games.

Gobert Is A Bad Matchup For The Clippers

Though the Clippers were shorthanded, they are going to face an uphill challenge when they face Gobert, even at full strength.

The Jazz center is truly one of the best players in the NBA, his impact night in and night out rivals the best players in the league, even if he isn’t the most skilled, but the Clippers roster isn’t particularly well equipped to handle what Gobert does well.

Ivica Zubac is one of the better true seven-footers in the NBA, and though he had a strong eight point, 10 rebound performance in a little over 20 minutes against the Jazz, the Clippers were -16 in the limited minutes he was on the floor.

Quin Snyder has made it a point to get Gobert on the floor against opposing teams’ second unit, and he’s simply dominated the lesser opponents. The gap between reserve center Derrick Favors and the opposing team’s starting center most nights is marginal, but the gap between Gobert and the opposing team’s reserve center is wider than the Grand Canyon.

The Clippers are basically a net-zero in Zubac’s minutes this season at +2 for the entire year. But they are +167 in minutes when Serge Ibaka sees the floor.

However, in an admittedly small sample size, the Clippers are an even zero with Ibaka on the floor in two games this season against the Jazz, and -24 with Zubac playing. Meanwhile, the Jazz are +25 in Gobert minutes, and +2 in Favors minutes.

See the trend?

The Jazz showed they can withstand Ibaka’s minutes in two meetings this year with Favors on the floor, but run the Clippers off the floor when Zubac plays against Gobert.

The absence of Leonard and George absolutely impacts everyone else on the floor, the Clippers might be in trouble if they have to play Gobert for 36 minutes a night in the playoffs.

Donovan Mithell’s Quick Fix

There’s an old cliche in the NBA that a star player only needs to see the ball go through the hoop once to believe they are on fire. I am sure there’s a statistician out there somewhere waiting to disprove this common saying, but it sure seems true for Donovan Mitchell.

Mitchell has notoriously been one of the NBA’s streakiest shooters through the first three and a half seasons of his career, but streaky is a two-way street. On one hand, Mitchell is prone to slow shooting starts, if not just bad shooting nights overall.

But when he does see that ball go in, even if he’s been shooting poorly up to that point, all bets are off.

Mitchell opened the game 2-10 in his first 14 minutes of action in the first half. He looked like he was forcing shots at the rim and wasn’t able to find a rhythm.

Then, after a missed floater, Mitchell got his own offensive rebound and laid it in for an easy bucket, and was lights out the rest of the game.

“I think the biggest thing is not really thinking about ‘Oh I’m 2-10, that’s where it starts,” Mitchell said. “When you start going there, that’s when you start to hesitate, that’s when you lose confidence in your shot.”

After his slow start, the guard connected on 7-11 shots from the floor for 20 points in just 19 and a half minutes. There are nights when Mitchell will start slow from the field, but he doesn’t need much to get going, and it’s a huge benefit to the Jazz when he does.

“2-10 can turn into 12-20 in heartbeat,” Mitchell said. “That’s how I look at it.”

Mitchell finished with a game-high 24 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and four steals.

Jazz Should Consider Resting Players

The level at which the Jazz are playing right now is historic. They’ve won 20 of their last 21 games, they’ve won nine straight overall, and they’re the only team in NBA history to have 18 double-digit wins in a 21 game span.

Here’s another crazy stat, the Jazz have played those 21 games in a total of 40 days. Meaning, on average, they’re playing more often than they are resting. They play a game every 45 hours.

In those 19 days ‘off’ the Jazz have taken 12 plane trips, meaning in all, they’ve had seven days where they aren’t playing or aren’t traveling during this streak.

If you stretch it back to New Year’s Eve, it’s even worse.  In those 48 days, the Jazz have played 26 games and had just 22 days off. Those 22 days “off” include 16 plane trips. They have played a game on average every 44 hours since December 31.

What am I saying? They are playing too much basketball.

During a traditional season, the Jazz would play 82 games over a roughly 175-day schedule. That’s a game every 51 hours, with multiple two-day breaks, and the occasional three days off.

Sure, there’s an All-Star break coming up between March 5-10. But at this rate, both Mitchell and Gobert will be playing in it. Snyder has already been named the coach. That means at least two more plane trips and another game mixed in while the rest of the league is ideally resting.

And yes, the Jazz are practicing less, but purely out of a need to find time off, otherwise, they’d never step away from the court.

After the break, they’ll finish the regular season through May, then the real marathon begins in the postseason where again, days off will be few and far between, especially now that games are being played in every arena across the country. That means practice on every off day and more travel in a condensed schedule.

With a victory on Wednesday night, the Jazz have a day off in Los Angeles, then return home for a rare two-day break in Salt Lake City before playing the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night.

If Snyder would be willing to rest a few Jazz players, most notably Mitchel and Gobert, he could buy them up to 96 hours without playing in a competitive game in a season where rest is at an absolute premium.

Yes, the Jazz would love to prove themselves against a healthier Clippers team on Friday night. Yes, a win on national television would be a boost in both the standings and for morale. And sure, every win counts, especially for a team that has a chance at finishing with the top seed overall in the NBA.

But does playing every game outweigh the benefits on the body and mind a few added days off my gain them, and is there any guarantee the Jazz on Friday night if the Clippers are healthier?

The Jazz don’t have a long history of resting players when they are healthy, but looking at the champions over the last several seasons, each team made an effort to give their star players time off.

LeBron James took select games off for the Los Angeles Lakers last season. Kawhi Leonard played in just 60 of the Toronto Raptors 82 games during their championship season in 2019.

Klay Thompson played the most games of any Golden State Warrior starter during their last championship run in 2018 and still sat out for nine games throughout the season, including eight games to fully heal a sprained thumb.

At this point, it seems unlikely the Jazz will use the opportunity to rest their players on Friday night to gain the added days for rest, but with how well they’ve been playing, at some point, they may want to start managing the roster like a true contender, and less like a team hoping to prove they belong.