Utah Jazz: Can they beat the Clippers without Mike Conley?

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports)
Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Utah Jazz might begin another series with a top playmaker on the bench.

All-Star guard Mike Conley left the court in the first half of the No. 1 seed Utah Jazz’s series-clinching Game 5 home win over the No. 8 seed Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday. Then he never reentered in the second half.

The reason for Conley’s exit was right hamstring soreness, which had plagued the 33-year-old pretty much throughout the regular season but most notably down the stretch as he missed nine of the team’s final 11 games.

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Speaking to the media after the victory, though, Conley sounded relatively upbeat about the injury:

“It’s playoffs, so my mindset is I’ll be ready to play. We’re gonna just see what happens in the next few days and be smart about how we approach it going into this next series.”

That next series, of course, has just about arrived. Yes, the No. 4 seed Los Angeles Clippers, a surging squad that is fresh off Sunday’s Game 7 victory over the No. 5 seed Dallas Mavericks, are set to battle the Jazzmen in Salt Lake City at 8 p.m. MT Tuesday.

Meanwhile, judging by the MRI on Thursday that revealed Conley’s mild right hamstring strain, there’s no guarantee at this point that he will lace ’em up for Game 1. In fact, seeing that the franchise has only disclosed that team doctors will reevaluate the second-year Jazzman’s condition before these Western Conference Semifinals, he may indeed miss a bulk of the series.

Or perhaps we’ll soon learn that he’ll be ready to go at the start.

Yet don’t believe everything you hear. Remember, Utah Jazz fans figured that two-time All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell was certain to dress out for Game 1 against the Grizzlies before suddenly learning on the day of the game that he would not due to the abundance of caution concerning his right ankle sprain six weeks prior.

Utah Jazz trouble looming should Mike Conley remain out of commission

The Los Angeles Clippers are a deep bunch that is firing on all cylinders as of late. And one explanation for the growing confidence is that their key weapons appear to be enjoying optimal health at the moment.

Sure, the Utah Jazz ought to have plenty of lethal pieces of their own, regardless of Mike Conley’s status. Plus, as alluded to earlier here, the group has its fair share of experience when it comes to playing without its 14-year NBA veteran, always with fellow 33-year-old Joe Ingles serving as arguably the league’s most trustworthy fill-in backcourt starter.

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On the other hand, minus their primary point guard, the Jazzmen might not have even escaped the first round — at least probably not in only five outings. After all, consider this: across the first four clashes, Conley averaged a double-double with 20.0 points plus 10.3 assists while shooting 53.3 percent beyond the arc and delivering clutch buckets during late-game action.

Furthermore, while the Jazz managed an impressive 15-6 record without Conley in the lineup this season, that 71.4 winning percentage is slightly lower than the 73.2 winning percentage — from a 41-15 record, including the first-round contests — when the former No. 4 overall draft pick has been in the mix.

Most importantly, Conley’s absence would equate to one less pure stroke contributing to the Utah Jazz’s obvious specialty: 3-point shooting.

However, maybe of almost equal importance, Conley is a far better defender on the perimeter than Ingles and Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson, who would likely see the most significant uptick in minutes should the Jazz take the floor without their starting floor general.

Finally, don’t forget that the first two games of the series are in Vivint Arena, meaning that homecourt advantage could slip from Utah’s hands before ever hitting the road to L.A. With that in mind, if Mike Conley is a no-go for a game or more, the guys might dig themselves into a hole that not even a fully intact Utah Jazz crew could crawl out of in time.

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As for the prediction here, the Los Angeles Clippers would win any bouts coinciding with Mike Conley in street clothes.