The playoffs are the NBA’s biggest challenge for a reason — just ask the Utah Jazz. After rolling to a first-round win over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed will begin their series against the Los Angeles Clippers without point guard Mike Conley.
Per the Jazz, Conley will miss Tuesday night’s Game 1 against the Clippers due to a right hamstring strain. Conley sustained the injury in Utah’s series-clinching Game 5 victory over Memphis. The veteran floor general was sensational in Games 1 through 4 specifically, averaging 20 points and 10.3 assists per game while canning over half of his attempts from downtown. His steady presence set the tone and helped the Jazz operate efficient offensive sets over the course of the series.
It’s unclear exactly how much time Conley will miss in total, as hamstring injuries differ from player to player. If Utah is to play to its potential, it will need the 33-year-old back in the lineup. With that said, there are some ways to manufacture productive play in the meantime. A lot of that stems from Donovan Mitchell, then the rest trickles down throughout Quin Snyder’s rotation.
After missing an extended period of time due to an ankle injury, Mitchell finally returned for Game 2 of the Memphis series and played as if he never got hurt to begin with. In just under 30 minutes per contest, the two-time All-Star averaged 28.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game on 45% shooting from the field, 40% from deep and 90% at the free-throw line. Without Conley in the closeout game, it was Mitchell’s 10 assists that led the team to victory. In order for the Jazz to win Game 1 against a tough Clippers team, Mitchell will need more outings like that one.
Another Jazz man capable of running the offense in spurts is wing Joe Ingles. The savvy vet is averaging a mere 2.8 assists per game in the playoffs but in an increased role, that number should rise. In addition to being a three-point marksman, Ingles makes the right reads on offense and is a key contributor in Utah’s ball movement-heavy offense. His playmaking prowess will be relied upon heavily in minutes without Mitchell on the court, should Snyder stagger those a bit.
Outside of Mitchell and Ingles, scoring threats Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson need to step up. Neither player is known for being a good passer, but sharing the rock will be critical until Conley returns. A small share of that responsibility may even rest upon Royce O’Neale‘s shoulders. Regardless of how well Bogdanovic and Clarkson are shooting or how stout O’Neale’s defense is, improvement in other areas should be welcomed and expected.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that Mitchell explodes for a game or two while Conley rests. He’s done it before and is no stranger to performing well on the big stage. He’ll have his work cut out for him against Los Angeles, though. Switches, blitzes, hedges and everything in between could — and should — be coming. History indicates he’ll be ready for whatever is thrown his way. His teammates are experienced and should be well prepared, too.
Replacing Mike Conley is much easier said than done. He’s as solid of a point guard as the NBA churns out. There’s no greater setting where his presence will be more sorely missed than in the playoffs. For the sake of both Conley and the Jazz, hopefully a quick return is on the horizon. The rest of the team just needs to be a bit better in the interim.