The good news for the Los Angeles Clippers happened Sunday afternoon when they finally earned a home victory in Game 7 to clinch a first-round Western Conference playoff series victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
The good news for the Utah Jazz came Monday afternoon when the franchise announced that point guard Mike Conley was able to participate in part of the team’s practice after re-injuring his hamstring in the series-ending Game 5 against the Memphis Grizzlies last week.
Conley’s availability for Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals — Tuesday night in Salt Lake City — is still uncertain. The All-Star’s health could play a major factor in the second-round series.
After all, it was one thing for the Jazz to get by ninth-seeded Grizzlies, who earned a spot in the playoffs via the play-in tournament, at less than full strength. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to try to defeat the talented, fourth-seeded Clippers, featuring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, a club many have considered to be one of the NBA Finals favorites this season.
“We’ve got our hands full,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “They’re a team that, certainly, we’re well aware how good they are.”
The five days of rest between series could prove to be a big benefit for the Jazz, who eliminated Memphis 4-1 on Wednesday and have been resting and recuperating while the Clippers slugged it out with the Mavericks before prevailing 4-3.
The Clippers didn’t have much time to celebrate a hard-earned and bizarre series win in which neither home team won until Game 7. Los Angeles might be a bit banged up, but the Clippers are thrilled to advance after going down 0-2.
George admitted “everyone has something going on” with their bodies at this point of the season.
“I just try to get to a mindset to go out and perform and just help my team keep the series and the season alive,” he said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “At this point, it’s just all-in. It’s just all-in, committed to doing whatever it takes, and you know, help try to keep us going.”
The Jazz have never lost to the Clippers in the postseason, having secured series wins in 1992, 1997 and 2017. Utah also won this season’s three-game series 2-1, with the most recent outcome being a 116-112 Los Angeles win on Feb. 19 when both teams mostly had their regular lineups.
The playoff series will feature two of the top 3-point shooting teams in the league. The Clippers shot an NBA-best 41.1 percent during the regular season, with the Jazz finishing fourth at 38.9 percent. The Jazz averaged a league-high 16.7 made treys per game while the Clippers were sixth at 14.3 per game.
Utah hit 40.6 percent from deep in five games against Memphis while Los Angeles sank 37.3 percent in seven games vs. Dallas.
Along with Conley, the Jazz depend on the offensive talents of Donovan Mitchell, who returned to average 28.5 points in the first round after missing a month with an ankle injury, plus Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson and Bojan Bogdanovic.
Center Rudy Gobert, who is expected to win his third NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, leads the Jazz’s defensive efforts.
A strategic decision to watch is whether Clippers coach Tyronn Lue uses the small-ball lineup that helped his team overcome the Mavericks or if he’ll opt to use bigger lineups with the likes of Serge Ibaka (if healthy), Ivica Zubac and perhaps even DeMarcus Cousins.
Ibaka is doubtful for the series opener on Tuesday and Game 2 on Thursday due to a back ailment. Cousins never got off the bench in the Dallas series.
“Certainly we’re familiar with their personnel. It doesn’t matter if there’s two guys or five guys or 10 guys,” Snyder said. “There’s no danger that we’re not going to be aware and prepared, that anybody coming off the bench is going to catch us by surprise as far as what they’re capable of doing.”
The Jazz, likewise, really on more than just their stars, with Royce O’Neale, Joe Ingles and Georges Niang are counted on in various ways.
“These games are not won with just one or two great players,” Leonard said during the first round. “You need a whole 17 or 16 players that you have.”
Lue didn’t waste time turning his focus to Utah once the Clippers eliminated the Mavericks.
“We can’t keep looking behind at what happened,” Lue said. “That (stuff) is over.”
–Field Level Media