At long last, the 2020 NBA playoffs got underway on Monday with a quadruple-header of Game 1s. The first game of the day featured an interesting Western Conference matchup between the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz, who are meeting in the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
The Nuggets ultimately walked away with a 135-125 overtime win, but the Jazz were a bit shorthanded. Mike Conley, Utah's starting point guard, left the bubble on Sunday to return to his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, for the birth of his son, Elijah Michael Conley. Conley, who announced on Instagram that everyone is doing well, returned to the bubble on Monday night, and the Jazz are optimistic he could be cleared to play for Game 3 against the Nuggets on Friday, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Players who leave the bubble with league and team approval and undergo negative COVID-19 testing every day they are gone must still quarantine for at least four days upon returning, according to the league's health and safety protocol. While Conley obviously made the right decision to be there for the birth of his son, his early absence in the series is still a big blow for the Jazz. They made two key acquisitions this offseason, signing Bojan Bogdanovic and trading for Conley, and now neither are available for the start of the playoffs. Between them, that's about 35 points per game of production they have to replace -- a tough ask for a team without many perimeter creators.
Conley didn't have a great start to his time with the Jazz, but he was playing quite well in the bubble, averaging 18 points and five assists, while shooting 37.2 percent from 3-point land. When he was on the court these past few weeks, the Jazz had a plus-5.1 net rating, and when he sat it plummeted to minus-11.3. That's a pretty dramatic split.
Backup point guard Emmanuel Mudiay figures to take on a much bigger role until Conley returns, and the Jazz will likely run more of the offense through Joe Ingles as a point-forward. But while the Jazz will need those two to step up, much of the added pressure will fall to Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Those two stars will have to be playing at a high level in order for Utah to keep up with the high-powered Nuggets offense.