The Jazz sat four starters – Mike Conley (right knee soreness), Donovan Mitchell (left peroneal strain), Royce O’Neale (right calf soreness) and Rudy Gobert (rest) – against the Spurs yesterday. Five if you count Bojan Bogdanovic, who underwent season-ending surgery before the bubble.
That cleared the way for San Antonio to get a 119-111 win and boost its chances in the Western Conference playoff race.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
Were those teams chasing the Western Conference’s play-in tournament thrilled with the Utah Jazz’s decision to sit four starters with injuries and rest center Rudy Gobert in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs?
Among teams trying to catch the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth seed, they were somewhere between displeased and livid, sources said.
Winning seeding games doesn’t matter much to the Jazz, who are in the tightly packed 4-6 range in the Western Conference. There’s no home-court advantage in the 4-5 series. In fact, Utah might prefer to drop to sixth. That’d likely mean facing the Nuggets – rather than the Rockets or Thunder – in the first round and avoiding the Lakers in the second round. Though Denver could move up and leave the Clippers in the No. 3 seed, and the Clippers are no easy second-round opponent either, it’s at least a viable strategy for Utah.
The Jazz also play the Nuggets today in the second leg of a back-to-back. Whatever its ideal standings, Utah definitely prioritizes having its players healthy and ready for the playoffs.
It also can’t be lost: Jazz lead executive Dennis Lindsey came up in the Spurs organization. That connection surely fueled the strongest paranoia.
Utah isn’t alone in appearing to put its finger on the playoff-race scale.
The Clippers will sit Kawhi Leonard against the Trail Blazers today and play him against the Nets tomorrow.
Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times:
Maybe this is just about timing. Obviously, it’s normal sit Leonard in one leg of a back-to-back.
But the Trail Blazers look like the strongest team among those chasing the No. 8 seed. Think the Clippers might want to give the Lakers the toughest-possible first-round matchup? The possibility is impossible to ignore when considering which weekend game Leonard is playing.
These are all variations of a common problem: Too few NBA regular-season (or seeding) games matter.
To be fair, the situation differs in the bubble. Home-court advantage would solve some of these problems. The play-in offers a new wrinkle. The long layoff before seeding games increases injury risk.
But it also feels especially absurd to go to all the trouble of playing basketball amid the coronavirus pandemic – separating players, coaches and other staff from their loved ones for at least several weeks – just to a play a game a team prefers, or at least doesn’t mind, losing.