The Memphis Grizzlies are here. They’ve made it. The NBA Playoffs. Who cares that they are the 8 seed? The fact that they’re among the 16 best teams in the NBA considering this full blown “rebuild” is only now ending its second season is pretty impressive. The Grizzlies entered The Arena on Friday night and took down Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, at Chase Center, with Steph at or near the peak of his powers. Ja Morant took the next step in his development, as did his Grizzlies teammates. It was a beautiful sight to see.
Now? The reward? A series with the mighty Utah Jazz...and old friend Mike Conley.
To get us ready, I reached out to Site Manager of SB Nation’s Utah Jazz blog SLC Dunk James Hansen to answer Five Questions central to the task at hand for Head Coach Taylor Jenkins and this young Grizzlies squad.
We still love Mike Conley, but are sad he’s facing us in this spot. What do you perceive as Conley’s main role on this Utah’s team title push?
James Hansen - As a Jazz fan my heart is as cold as the Wasatch Mountains in winter and so I haven’t thought too much about Memphis/Mike Conley connection. As far as Conley’s role, it will be the one he settled into this year as the secondary playmaker behind Donovan Mitchell and the main playmaker with Rudy Gobert and the second unit. Conley has been everything this year that Jazz fans hoped he’d be last year playing off of Mitchell. Last year was probably more difficult for Conley than any of us realize playing a whole new system and being a secondary option in a completely different environment.
Donovan Mitchell hasn’t played much lately. How concerned are you that he will be more rusty than rested/healthy?
Hansen - That’s the big question and the one that scares me the most. How bad is the ankle? Were the Jazz resting him because they wanted to be cautious or is it worse than we thought? The biggest issue I foresee is that, even if he is healthy, there will be some rust and chemistry issues in that first game back. Mitchell, whenever he has missed any amount of time, has always struggled to quickly fit back in the Jazz’s starting unit. We’ll see if he can do it quickly this time, but my guess is it will take a few games to work out the kinks.
Quin Snyder seemingly flies under the radar as one of the NBA’s best coaches. How has he deployed this Jazz team to be one of the most efficient offensively in NBA history?
Hansen - Snyder has done a fantastic job adjusting his system to the strengths of it’s best players. Utah has two big advantages: shooters who can make plays on the perimeter and Rudy Gobert. Snyder deserves credit for that system and how he adjusts game to game. If he were in New York or LA, he’d probably be the favorite for COY. Being in small market Utah means he likely will be overlooked.
Beyond Conley/Gobert/Mitchell, which Jazz player will have the largest role for the team if they hope to win?
Hansen - Bojan Bogdanovic is the x-factor for this team. Utah didn’t have him last playoffs and likely beats Denver pretty easily if he’s playing. Bogdanovic has played at an all-star level while Conley and Mitchell were out with injury the last part of the season. With Mitchell and Conley back can he keep that level of efficiency up without having the ball in his hands as much? Jazz fans certainly hope so and there will likely be a lot of situations where the Jazz call Bojan’s number when the best defenders are on Mitchell and Conley. Can Bojan step up in those moments?
The Jazz are the 1 seed, but the Lakers and Clippers loom. How disappointed will you be if Utah doesn’t reach the NBA Finals this season?
Hansen - Very disappointed. Utah has gone all in with this core group of guys and have maxed out every possible contract for this season. There hasn’t been a season, even with Stockton and Malone, that the Jazz have this legitimate of a shot. To not reach the finals means that the core pieces weren’t good enough to overcome the elite of the league. Is Utah just a good system team or are the better than they get credit? So much rides on these playoffs and I’m getting more nervous as I write this answer so I’m going to end now!