Utah Jazz: Donovan Mitchell’s return date could prove problematic

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports)
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports) /

Cautious moves might cost the Utah Jazz their continuity come playoff time.

The Utah Jazz announced on Friday that Donovan Mitchell will be out at least another week as the two-time NBA All-Star recovers from a sprained right ankle he suffered on April 16 during a home victory versus the Indiana Pacers. He has already missed the past 11 contests and, given this latest update, will be out of action for no fewer than four more.

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With that in mind, consider that only five outings remain in the regular season for the league-leading Jazzmen (49-18), beginning with Saturday’s 8 p.m. MT matchup in Salt Lake City against the league-worst Houston Rockets (16-51).

Worrisome scenario for the Utah Jazz

Doing the math, by the time the NBA Playoffs begin on May 22, the Utah Jazz will have at most seen only one game to rediscover their flow with the 6-foot-1, 215-pound playmaking guard again in the mix. Not ideal. Also, this isn’t to mention the fact that All-Star guard Mike Conley (hamstring tightness) has now missed the past six games.

In Donovan Mitchell’s absence, the team has both lost and then regained the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference standings, currently sitting one game ahead of the Phoenix Suns (48-19).

Now, riding a four-game unblemished streak following Friday’s stirring 127-120 win over the visiting Denver Nuggets (44-23), Utah is enjoying a peak to its Mitchell-less high on the backs of Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert, and Jordan Clarkson.

That trio combined for 83 points last time out, highlighted by Bogdanovic’s career-high 48 points, which mark the most by any Utah Jazz weapon in a regular-season affair since Hall of Famer Karl Malone dropped 56 during the franchise’s legendary 1997-98 campaign.

Plus, several other players have been stepping up — big time — as of late:

  • Joe Ingles has found his rhythm as a makeshift starting floor general.
  • Another fill-in starter, Georges Niang, has upgraded the 3-ball rocket atop the “Minivan” on his way to shooting 26-for-56 (46.4 percent) from downtown across the past nine games.
  • Undrafted rookie Trent Forrest has seized on his opportunities off the bench, admirably imitating both Conley and Mitchell on several occasions.
  • Royce O’Neale, Derrick Favors, Ersan Ilyasova, and Miye Oni have made some clutch contributions as well.

Yes, without Mitchell and Conley on the floor, the new 10-man rotation as a whole has remarkably maintained Utah’s “top dog” status. Obviously, this is a testament to both these healthy Jazzmen and the pure genius of their NBA Coach of the Year candidate, Quin Snyder.

Speaking of Snyder, there’s no doubt he’ll be happy to see Mitchell and Conley return in tip-top shape, whenever that time finally arrives. After all, despite the recent success, the Utah Jazz will surely need both gifted creators in the quest to reach their full postseason potential.

On the other hand, Snyder’s staff will certainly face a tall order in trying to reintegrate the All-Star backcourt without damaging the newfound confidence and chemistry of all the guys who have been critical to the winning ways this week.

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And these sudden rotation experiments might not begin until the first round of the playoffs, potentially against LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers, Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors, or Damian Lillard’s Portland Trail Blazers. Yikes.