The Utah Jazz finally know their opponent.
The No. 1-seeded Jazz will face the No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the NBA playoffs, beginning Sunday evening in Salt Lake City.
Here’s what you need to know:
Rested vs. Tested
The Jazz have been watching and waiting.
“It’s really different,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “Whereas some teams, they’ve known who they’re playing early in the week. Their preparation looks very different from ours. Not knowing who you were playing, you want to work so you’re ready to go but at the same time being really smart about what you’re doing. We tried to set it up in a way where we’ve not only focused on our potential opponents and gotten to a pivotal point where we feel like we could move quickly when we find out who it is. But some of the focus early in the week has been on us.”
Part of that includes getting some much-needed rest ahead of the playoffs. The team took Monday and Tuesday off last week before returning to practice.
“Rest has been a priority for us,” Snyder said. “Having some injuries late in the year, we had some guys that were playing a lot more minutes.”
The Grizzlies, meanwhile, could come to Salt Lake with some tired legs. Memphis had to win two games in the play-in tournament just to get into the postseason. They took down the Spurs in Memphis and then held off Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors in overtime on Friday night in San Francisco.
Regular Season Records
The Jazz and Grizzlies got a playoff preview in March. The teams played all three of their regular-season games against each other in a span of five days.
The Jazz swept the series.
March 26 in Utah — Jazz 117, Grizzlies 114
March 27 in Utah — Jazz 126, Grizzlies 110
March 31 in Memphis — Jazz 111, Grizzlies 107
But regular season wins don’t guarantee anything in the playoffs.
“At this point, your record is 0-0,” Snyder said. “As is everyone’s. Particularly when you look at this year, I think seeding is basically irrelevant. The teams that play well and win games are going to have an opportunity to advance, and I don’t think it matters who you’re playing.”
Star Guards Square Off
Donovan Mitchell was back at practice Thursday after missing more than a month of action with a sprained right ankle, and believes he is on track to be ready for Game 1 of the NBA playoffs.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “Barring any setbacks — god forbid, knock on wood. The goal is to be out there and helping my teammates to try and win a championship. That’s been the goal all year.”
Mitchell averaged a career-best 26.4 points per game this season.
The Jazz will need that firepower to combat Memphis’ star sophomore Ja Morant.
Morant scored 35 points on Friday to lead his team past Golden State. The point guard averaged 19.1 points and 7.4 assists per game during the regular season.
A Battle of the Bigs
Memphis center Jonas Valanciunas’ 23 points and 23 rebounds were huge in helping Memphis beat the Spurs in the first game of the play-in tournament.
But Rudy Gobert, who was just named a finalist for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, may have a few ideas about how to keep him in check.
Mountain Mike Returns to Memphis
Before the NBA’s play-in tournament began, Mike Conley had a little trouble wrapping his head around the prospect of facing his old squad.
“Man, if we ended up playing the Grizzlies that would be actually kind of wild,” he said. “I would have never thought I’d be on the other side, coming into FedEx Forum as an opponent in a playoff atmosphere. That was never a thought in my mind. Just saying that it would be weird and it would be awesome.”
Conley led the Grizzlies to 414 wins during his time in Memphis. Now the Utah Jazz point guard is looking to hand them four losses.