by Daniel Olsen
After four days of play-in games, the playoffs are set. The Utah Jazz lucked out in the eyes of many by not having to play the Warriors or Lakers. However, the Memphis Grizzlies earned the eight seed and the right to play the Jazz. It’s time to look at the biggest storylines surrounding this first round matchup.
Transition vs Half-Court
The Grizzlies rank among the top transition offenses in the NBA. They average 23 points per game in these situations which is the sixth best in the league. The Jazz run a more traditional half-court offense that is the best overall in the NBA. They led the lead in made three-pointers with 1,205 shots from downtown. That is 73 more than the next best team (Portland Trailblazers). This should result in some impressive offensive performances no matter the style.
Morant vs Mitchell
Ja Morant is a young star like Donovan Mitchell was in his first couple years. Now, Mitchell in his fourth year. This time, Mitchell looks like the mature star that can lead the Jazz to victory if healthy. Morant is coming fresh off an impressive win over a Warriors squad featuring an MVP candidate in Stephen Curry.
Mitchell will appear in the Jazz rotation for the first time in over a month. Before his ankle injury, Mitchell had been averaging 30 points-per-game in the month of April. If Mitchell can be close to 100 percent then that should bode well for the Jazz.
Gobert vs Valenciunas
Jonas Valenciunas is a traditional big that should be good early test for Rudy Gobert. The good thing here is he won’t be an outside threat that pulls Gobert away from the rim like stretch bigs do.
A key factor in this matchup will be rest. Valenciunas is the most efficient player on the Grizzlies with a season Player Efficiency Rating of 24.47. Gobert is close to that as he leads the Jazz with a 23.54 PER. It will be tough for Valenciunas to keep that pace up as he is coming off just one day of rest. Gobert, on the other hand, has had a week to prepare for this matchup.
The one question is now much rust will be a factor in these NBA Playoffs. Sometimes too much rest can cause rust. The Grizzlies have already had an appetizer of what the playoffs is like after a successful showing in the play-in tournament. Gobert and the rest of the Jazz will need to be ready for this increase in intensity.
Mike Conley vs Former Team
In his second year with the Jazz, Conley gets to play his former team in the first round. This team is different than the ones he’s played on in past years. He has been on the other side as an eight seed Cinderella, Western Conference Finals contestant and lottery team late in his career in Memphis.
Conley has averaged 15.5 points-per-game in two regular season matchups against his former team. While the Grizzlies have respected Conley’s time in Memphis, their NBA Playoff hype video suggests that they are ready for a new era. In one part of the clip, Conley fades into the background as Morant takes the court.
1 vs 8 History
An eight seed has upset a one seed five times in NBA history. The last time this happened was 2012 when the Bulls lost to the 76ers after the Bulls suffered a significant injury by Derrick Rose.
The gritty Grizzlies team of 2011 that defeated Tim Duncan and the Spurs was the other notable upset in the last decade. They were the last team from the Western Conference to beat a one seed. The Jazz will do everything they can to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself a decade later.
The Jazz should win this in five games. It won’t be easy. However, this battle-tested team just needs to play their best against this quick young squad. They don’t want to take their foot off the gas. That’s how the 3-1 lead evaporated last year.
Expect the Jazz to get open looks from three and win with a final score of about 117-109. They will flirt with a double-digit win but the Grizzlies will send a message that they will not simply roll over and play dead. The Jazz are ready for the grizzly hunt. After all, they brought a bear of their own.
Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images