Jazz Western Conference Semifinal Mailbag
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz are headed to the second round of the NBA playoffs, but are awaiting their Western Conference Semifinals opponent.
The Dallas Mavericks can close out the Los Angeles Clippers tonight and advance to face the Jazz on Sunday afternoon in Utah.
If Dallas loses, the two teams will head back to Los Angeles for game seven, and the Jazz will host the winner of the series finale on Tuesday in Salt Lake City.
With the Conference Semifinals on the horizon, Ben Anderson of KSL Sports answered readers’ mailbag questions ahead of the second round. You can listen to Anderson’s answers in the podcast player below.
Jazz WCS Mailbag
Why Are The Jazz The NBA’s Top Rebounding Team
There are a few reasons for this, but it really comes down to Rudy Gobert, the Jazz defense, and execution.
First, let’s talk about the obvious and that being Gobert. I am don’t know many people know this but Gobert isn’t just a great rebounder today, he’s one of the best rebounders in NBA history.
Now entering his eighth season in the NBA, Gobert has the fifth-highest career rebounding percentage in league history. Not just this season, but all time. He trails only Andre Drummond, Dennis Rodman, Reggie Evans, and DeAndre Jordan all time.
Second, the Jazz had the third-best defense in the NBA but did it without trying to force turnovers. While the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia rely more on turnovers, the Jazz know their best defense is funneling opposing players to Gobert who causes them to miss shots, then grab the rebound.
As a result, the Jazz allow more attempts but collect more rebounds.
Finally, execution is a big factor. I don’t know if we’ve gone a week talking to Quin Snyder without him mentioning out important it is for Royce O’Neale and the Jazz perimeter players to rebound when Gobert rotates to help defend the rim.
If Snyder is telling the media that every week, I’d imagine he’s pretty well beat it into the heads of his players.
Is Time Off Before The Second Round Good?
Looking back at the Jazz game one loss to the Memphis Grizzlies and it’s probably easy to deduce that extra time off means extra rust, and losing game one in a playoff series automatically means the Jazz surrender home-court advantage.
However, the Jazz were also playing without Donovan Mitchell in game one, but pretty easily dismissed Memphis once the fourth-year star returned to the floor.
If Mitchell had played game one, and the Jazz had one, would anybody be asking about rust? My guess is no, but truthfully there’s probably a balance.
Earlier today Gobert said he thinks the break before round two will be better than the break before the playoff opener.
“It’s not as long, so it’s all about taking care of ourselves and our bodies,” Gobert said. “It’s on us to make sure that we stay sharp in everything that we do.”
Further compilation this issues is the injury to guard Mike Conley who reaggravated his hamstring injury in the first quarter of game five. Between games missed and injury management, the hamstring has cost Conley 21 appearances already this season, so it’s not difficult to imagine the Jazz playing without the veteran to open the series against either the Clippers or Mavericks.
Regardless of when the series opens, the Jazz won’t play game three in the series until next Saturday, so Conley could get as many as 10 days off if he misses games one and two of the second round.
Donovan Mitchell The Passer
To sit on the fence, the answer is both. Yes, as Mitchell grew more familiar with the Grizzlies defense, his passing became surgical, especially when they tried to blitz him on the pick and roll where he found both Gobert and Derrick Favors for open dunks under the rim on 35+ foot passes.
But even last season before the Jazz were eliminated Mitchell said it was a focus going into the bubble to become a better passer.
With his ability to get in the paint, and excellent touch as a passer, there’s no reason his passing won’t continue to improve throughout his career. If Conley does miss games, he could see his assist numbers skyrockets in the second round.
Do Clippers Or Mavericks Have Better Coach?
Rick Carlise might be the best coach in the NBA, so that is probably the short answer to that question. However, Tyron Lue made the wise decision to go small against the Mavericks hoping to neutralize their three-point shooting to open the series and it also worked.
Luka Doncic might be the smartest offensive player in the NBA currently as he’s simply a master of the pick and roll, with an IQ not unlike LeBron James and John Stockton historically.
Dallas is going to have a hard time defensively against the Jazz if the two teams meet up in the second round because they don’t have a great ability to either stay in front of the Jazz ball handlers or slow Gobert in the pick and roll.
The Jazz repeatedly targeted Kristaps Porzingis in the first two games of the season series (Mitchell missed the games with a concussion) and nearly played him off the floor. It’s no coincidence that in the Jazz lone loss of the series, Porzingis missed the game due to injury.
The Jazz could play some zone which would allow Gobert to stay near the rim and help clog up the paint when Doncic drives, while also spacing the floor to get out to the Mavericks shooters.
However, you may want to give Dallas a half to prove their three-point shooting is for real. They’ve been the second-best shooting team in the playoffs so far but were in the bottom half of the league during the regular season.
I would be surprised if the Clippers tried to go small against the Jazz, that doesn’t bode well for their pick and roll defense against either Mitchell getting to the rim or Gobert getting easy lobs.
How Do You Defend Luka?
The first coach who can figure this out will have accomplished something significant because truthfully, nobody has stopped Doncic.
But as you mentioned, it’s probably better to pick your poison making him a scorer or a playmaker.
I think if you can keep the Mavericks supporting cast off balance by not seeing the ball regularly with open three-point shots, you’ll be in good shape. In the Jazz lone loss to Dallas this season, the Mavericks made 23 threes, 17 of which came for the team’s supporting cast.
As frustrating as it might be to watch Doncic score 35 points every night, I think that’s better than watching Josh Richardson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Jalen Brunson from going off from deep.
How Has The Jazz Backcourt Defended Better?
The Jazz backcourt struggled mightily with the Grizzlies guards of Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks, especially Conley and Mitchell.
However, it was adjustments made by Snyder and the coaching staff using the team’s bigs that helped solve the equation in games four and five.
Rather than letting Morant get to his spots in the paint, Favors and Gobert would meet the speedy guard at the free-throw line before they got into limbo about where to guard the screen setter or the ball handler.
That was a little too far out for Morant to comfortably knock down his push shot that he killed the Jazz with the open the series, and I would expect similar adjustments against Doncic.
Can George and Leonard Stop The Jazz Offense?
Traditionally the best way to defend Mitchell has been to put bigger, more athletic wings on him defensively and take away his ability to turn the corner. However, he torched the Grizzlies when Brooks tried to defend him one-on-one, and Brooks fits that bill.
Mitchell averaged 24.7 points per game on 53 percent true-shooting percentage against the Clippers, both of which were below his season average, but not anywhere near a total collapse.
What is concerning is how well Conley played against the Clippers in the series opener when he scored 33 points while LA focused on their defense on Mitchell. Conley is a terrific release valve for Mitchell, and the Jazz will miss him if he is out for any period of time.
Where is Joe Ingles?
Joe Ingles postseason play over the last two years could be described as concerning, as his numbers take a massive hit when he comes off the bench.
However, when he finds himself entering games where either Conley or Mitchell isn’t playing, he’s been significantly better.
Last season the Jazz were without Conley in games one and two against Denver, and Ingles averaged 18.5 points, 6.0 assists, and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 43 percent from three.
In game one this season without Mitchell, Ingles scored 11 points on 4-8 shooting while grabbing two rebounds and handing out two assists.
Mostly I think it has to do with the amount of time he spends on the floor with Gobert. When Ingles shares the floor with the All-NBA big man, he gets more open threes and easy lanes to the basket.
With the reserves, those opportunities become harder. That’s a good sign for the Jazz if Conley misses games as Ingles is a more than adequate starter, but ideally, he’d keep that level of contribution up regardless of who he plays with.