When the Utah Jazz were eliminated in the first round of the 2018-19 playoffs by the Houston Rockets, vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey and general manager Justin Zanik knew they had to put more offensive weapons around star Donovan Mitchell if they wanted to be able to keep up in the high-flying Western Conference. They made two major moves, first trading for veteran point guard Mike Conley, then signing Bojan Bogdanovic in free agency.
Now here they are in the 2020 playoffs, and they'll be without both.
Conley, hopefully, won't be out for Utah's full first-round series vs. the Nuggets, which begins on Monday. Conley left the bubble to be present for the birth of his son, and will now have to quarantine for four days upon his return to Orlando before he can join the team and get back on the court. That likely puts him out for the first two games of the series, but hopefully not longer than that.
Bogdanovic, on the other hand, is done for the year after having wrist surgery, and the Jazz offense felt his absence dearly in their eight seeding games. We'll get into that more below, but just know it's going to be a tough road for Utah to put enough points on the board without Bogdanovic and Conley.
Below is the full schedule for this first-round series, including TV information, followed by three things to watch for.
*This post will continue to update with results for as long as the series lasts.
(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Utah Jazz
*All Times Eastern
- Game 1: Monday, Aug. 17, 1:30 p.m. | ESPN
- Game 2: Wednesday, Aug. 19, 4 p.m. | TNT
- Game 3: Friday, Aug. 21, 4 p.m. | TNT
- Game 4: Sunday, Aug. 23, 9 p.m. | TNT
- Game 5: Tuesday, Aug. 25, TBD | TBD
- Game 6: Thursday, Aug. 27, TBD | ESPN
- Game 7: Saturday, Aug. 29, TBD | TNT
1. Donovan Mitchell's burden
Without Bogdanovic and Conley, there is so much pressure on Mitchell to create offense for a Jazz team that really has nowhere else to turn. Mitchell can't fall in love with mid-range jumpers. He has to attack the basket and be able to finish and draw help to open up kick-outs to shooters. Utah does have a stable of gunners who can knock down 3s (again, Conley's absence will be felt here), but they are not guys who can create their own shots. Mitchell has to do that, and he must do it both consistently and efficiently. Mitchell shot under 40 percent from the field in Utah's eight seeding games. That's not going to cut it.
2. Michael Porter Jr.'s impact
The Nuggets are thought of as one of the deepest teams in the league, but that isn't the case right now. Gary Harris (hip) and Will Barton (knee), two major perimeter pieces, have been ruled out for at least Game 1. Meaning ... welcome to a significant role in the playoffs, Michael Porter Jr.
Porter was off the charts in Denver's seeding games, averaging 22 points and just under nine rebounds in over 33 minutes per game. He started all seven of his bubble appearances and shot 42 percent from 3. The kid is 22 years old. He's started eight NBA games in his life. The Nuggets need him to hit the postseason ground running.
If he does, it'll be a major boost for the Nuggets, who rely so heavily on their two-man game between Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Porter can get his own shot, and that secondary creator role is vital against a Utah defense that is as disciplined as it comes.
3. Conley's absence
If Conley is out two games, and the Jazz can split those two, Utah will be feeling great. If he's out more than that, or if he comes back and the Jazz are trailing 2-0, that's another story. Conley had a miserable regular season, but he looked good in the seeding games averaging 18 points on 37 percent 3-point shooting. Jordan Clarkson, particularly as long as Conley is out, needs to be big in this series for Utah as a creator and scorer for both the second unit and alongside Mitchell, but Conley almost certainly needs to come back and be effective for the Jazz to win this series. For Utah, it's all about staying afloat until Conley's return.