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The Utah Jazz lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in six games in the Western Conference Semifinals this past season, an especially disappointing result considering the team was up 2-0 to start the series and was the top overall seed in the West.
But star guard Donovan Mitchell believes the team’s time to win an NBA championship is now, as he told The Athletic’s Sam Amick:
“… Now it’s like, ‘What do you take from this?’ Well, it’s a similar situation, and understanding that this is a time—this is our time right here. We can get it done, and we’ve got to go out there and continue to work, and I think we need to come back with a little bit of a fire in us and understanding that there were times last year where we for…—I wouldn’t say we forgot; we allowed teams to feel comfortable, and then you get to that space where it’s a five-point lead, five-point lead, and then next thing you know they hit three shots and they’re up one. … This year, it’s like, ‘No, keep the foot on the gas. Full 48. Finish the game, finish the series, close it out and let’s get ready for what’s next.’ And ultimately, we won’t be as happy until we win a chip.”
As for the ankle injury that cost him the last 16 games of the regular season and the first game of the postseason, Mitchell said he’s recovering nicely.
“The ankle feels good. I’ll be ready to go,” he said. “I think last year definitely was shaky. There were just so many different obstacles with the ankle and whatnot, but—like I said—no slight to Phoenix or Milwaukee or the Clippers, you know, [but] I feel like if we were healthy, you know, we, we get to the Finals. I feel like we [would] win, but you know it’s all easy when you say ifs, ands or buts. It’s easy to say that.”
The hard part is proving it. The Jazz certainly looked the part of a title contender during the regular season, racing out to a 52-20 mark, the best in the NBA.
And in an offseason that saw a number of contenders deal with major injuries—Anthony Davis missed time for the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray missed the entire postseason, Chris Paul battled through injuries and Kawhi Leonard missed the final two games of the series vs. the Jazz—the door appeared to be wide open for Utah run.
Failing to beat the Clippers lent further credence to the idea that the Jazz might be an excellent regular season team but aren’t built to win in the postseason. It was a critique that was leveled at the Milwaukee Bucks in the past as well, at least until they won a title last year.
Certainly, the small lineups the Clippers trotted out exposed Utah’s lack of solid perimeter defenders, as the Jazz put Rudy Gobert in the pick-and-roll and pulled him away from the basket, neutralizing his defensive impact.
It will be up to Mitchell, Gobert, Mike Conley and the rest of the Jazz to address those issues and discredit the idea they’re simply a regular season team. Mitchell sounds very motivated to do just that.