Healthy Jazz Host Surging Memphis Grizzlies In Game One
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz will host the Memphis Grizzlies in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs.
For the first time in team history, the Jazz own the best record in the NBA outright and will open every series at home where they were far and away the best team in the league.
The Grizzlies meanwhile qualified for the playoffs for the first time in team history, and the first time since they traded guard Mike Conley to the Jazz in 2019.
Jazz Return To Full Strength
The Jazz will be at full strength as Donovan Mitchell is back in the lineup for the first time
Mitchell missed the final 16 games of the regular season with a severe ankle sprain but was cleared to return to the practice court on Wednesday. The All-Star guard was not listed on the Jazz injury report before game one for the first time in five weeks.
How many minutes Mitchell will play remains a mystery, through the guard indicated he felt comfortable playing as many as the team needed him.
“I don’t want to go out there full bore and then hurt it again,” Mitchell said, “But at the end of the day it is the playoffs and you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to compete and you’ve got to be ready.”
While Jazz coach Quin Snyder was non-commital on how many minutes Mitchell would play, he praised the guard’s preparation for the postseason.
“His approach is right where it needs to be,” Snyder said. “He’s excited to play, excited to compete and it’s just great to have him back.”
Mitchell was in the midst of a career year when he went down with the injury. The guard finished the season averaging personal bests of 26.4 points, 5.2 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game.
Memphis On Tear After Jazz Sweep
The Jazz swept the Memphis Grizzlies 3-0 this season, with all three games being played over a five-day stretch in late March.
The Jazz won back-to-back games over the Grizzlies on March 26 and 27, before winning on the road in Memphis on March 31. Despite the season sweep, Jazz coach Quin Snyder said the team has forgotten their past success.
“We don’t look at those games and translate it that way,” Snyder said of the March wins. “That’s the way the schedule unfolded, but they’re a different team than they were at that point.”
After their final loss to the Jazz, Memphis had a record of 22-23 and sat in the tenth seed in the West. Over the final month and a half of the season, the Grizzlies finished 16-11, including 8-2 over the final games of the year to earn the final seed in the West.
One cause for the spike in play was the increased focus on the three-point shot, as Memphis went from averaging 10.4 three-point makes per game over the first 45 games of the season to 12.4 makes per game on 37 percent from the three-point line to close the season.
Second-year star Ja Morant was the key factor in the leap. The guard’s shooting percentage from three climbed to 37 percent per game over the final 24 games of the year after shooting just 24 percent from deep over the first 37 games of the season.
The Jazz third-ranked defense allowed the fewest made threes this season by an opponent, giving up just 10.9 per game, including just 8.7 by the Grizzlies in three meetings.
Memphis ability to knock down threes will be key against the Jazz deep ball barrage, especially if they hope to steal a game in Salt Lake City.
The key matchup will pit Morant against Jazz’s Conley who is facing his old team in the playoffs for the first time.
While Mitchell works his way back from injury, Conley will have to carry a larger offense load to combat Morant. The veteran guard missed nine consecutive games near the end of the season after reaggravating a right hamstring injury but returned to the floor to help secure the top seed in the NBA in the Jazz final two games.
Conley averaged 15.5 points, 7.5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds against his former team this season, but shot just 41 percent from the floor and 21 percent in three meetings.
Morant meanwhile was successful offensively against the Jazz, despite coming up empty in the win column. The star guard averaged 26.7 points, 7.3 assists, and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 51 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three.
Game one between the Jazz and Grizzlies tips off at 7:30 pm MT. The game will be broadcast on TNT.
Utah Jazz Scoreboard
Utah Jazz Team Leaders
Utah Jazz Standings