It’s been tough for everyone in the NBA to actually think about playing the game of basketball in the wake of Sunday’s tragedy, let alone actually playing it. The games however, for the most part, have still been played and they all count towards the standings. The Spurs find themselves 0-2 since the passing of Kobe Bryant, with close losses to both the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls. They’ll face a Utah Jazz team that is 19-3 in their last 22 games, finally resembling the team that many had them pegged to be in the offseason.
Utah Jazz (32-14) vs. San Antonio Spurs (20-26)
January 29, 2020 | 7:30 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: LaMarcus Aldridge (thumb — out)
Jazz Injuries: None
Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell should be on their way to their first All Star Game, but for different reasons
While the Jazz have a host of good players on their roster, the duo of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert is arguably the measuring stick that will judge just how high Utah can go. As well as both have played in past seasons, neither has had the opportunity to suit up for the All Star Game. Though they were not called upon to start this years’ game by fans, Utah’s record this year and recent extremely strong play should change all of that.
Gobert has once again taken a step forward as an offensive player, averaging nearly 16 points a game for the 2nd year in a row on an absurd 69%, but it’s defense that continues to be his calling card. Case in point: On a night where he went 8-8 from the field and scored 22 points against the Dallas Mavericks, the main highlight after the game was his huge block on Luka Doncic in the waning moments of the 4th quarter. The game was essentially over after this:
His backcourt buddy Donovan Mitchell is once again having a great season. Mitchell burst into the spotlight 2 seasons ago as a rookie when coach Quinn Snyder gave him the keys to the ship. He’s been driving it ever since, thanks in large part to a game that felt so mature considering his age. He’s upped his production for the 3rd time in as many seasons, averaging 24.9 points a game on career-high shooting percentages (on a 46/37/87 slash line), signifying an ability to score at all 3 levels. His 46 point outing 2 weeks ago in a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans paints a pretty good picture of the type of scorer he is:
Any game plan for going against Utah must begin with finding ways to limit these two. That starts with making sure Gobert isn’t left uncontested on rebounds close to the rim and making sure Mitchell sees a body everywhere he is on the court.
Mike Conley continues to struggle, but could he be ready to breakout?
Along with the signing of forward Bojan Bogdanovic in free agency, Utah’s acquisition of long-time Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley was expected to propel the Jazz towards the upper-tier of the Western Conference after a few years of being a 2nd round playoff team at most. While Bogdanovic has had a fantastic first year with the Jazz, Conley has struggled to find any sort of rhythm with his offensive game, averaging just 13 points a game on a career-low 38% from the field. He has also dealt with injuries, the most lingering of which being a hamstring issue that sidelined him for well over a month. Tonight’s game will be just his 6th since returning from injury, the first 5 featuring him coming off the bench.
As rough a year as it has been for Conley, he still looks capable of doing all the things that have made him one of the most overlooked point guards for so long. All it takes is one game sometimes to get a player going. For the Spurs’ sake, let’s hope that game isn’t tonight.
For the Jazz fan’s perspective, please visit SLC Dunk.
PtR’s Gamethread will be up this afternoon for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.