A short summer?
A strange training camp?
A truncated preseason?
Forget all of that. Donovan Mitchell isn’t interested in making excuses. The 2020-21 NBA season — with all of its unprecedented-ness and unpredictable possibility — is here, and the All-Star guard wants to establish what may be called, in the parlance of our time, a new normal for the Utah Jazz.
“We need to come out ready to go,” Mitchell said recently, “because losing in the first round ain’t it no more.”
There are still 72 games to play over the next five months before the Jazz could get the chance to erase the memories of recent playoff frustrations, but Mitchell and his teammates want to send a clear message with a strong start to the new campaign.
“There’s no easing our way into this,” Mitchell said.
The Jazz tip things off Wednesday night in Portland with a test against the Trailblazers dynamic scoring backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
With two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert patrolling the paint, the Jazz want to re-establish themselves as one of the league’s premier defenses. Meanwhile, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder has also placed a renewed emphasis on playing with pace, getting shots early in the clock, and firing away from beyond the arc.
“We’ve built a team that has a lot of great shooters, a lot of guys who are very confident in themselves,” point guard Mike Conley said. “We’re going to try to utilize that to the best of our ability, and we’re going to need every bit of that against a team like Portland. … It’s going to be a very fun game to start the season.”
Conley is now in his second season with the Jazz, and the veteran hopes some of the lessons he learned during his years with the Memphis Grizzlies might help his new team take a leap forward this year.
“We never could get over the Clippers. We never could get over OKC. And then one year we finally did it. We pushed through and got to the Western Conference Finals,” Conley said. “You’ve gotta take your bumps and bruises. You’ve got to take the losses early and keep them as a lesson.
The way we ended last season, that kind of stuff sticks with you. It makes you better. I think it will make Donovan, Rudy, myself, everybody on this team have a more heightened sense of urgency coming into this season.”
The Jazz return all of their starters from a season ago, with sharpshooting forward Bojan Bogdanovic healthy and back in the lineup after recovering from season-ending wrist surgery last spring.
“We’re just excited to have everyone back together and healthy and see what we can do,” Conley said.
In free agency, the Jazz re-signed sixth man Jordan Clarkson and big man Derrick Favors to anchor the second unit. That continuity could pay dividends during what promises to be a difficult season.
“It’s something we’re very comfortable with,” Clarkson said. “Everybody, we all know our role. We know what we’re out there to do. It does make things easier, but we still have to out there, communicate and work and continue to grow.”
Gobert, who signed a contract extension last weekend, is eager to get started and also has his sights set on playing deep into the summer.
“I just see it as a step we need to take,” Gobert said. “I feel like we’ve been there. It’s on us now to get to the second round, but the goal is to get farther than that and get to the Finals. Hopefully we get a chance to win a championship. We have a great opportunity this year and I’m feeling pretty good about it.”
This story is presented by University of Utah Health, trusted health care provider of the Utah Jazz.