SALT LAKE CITY — The year 2021 is certainly no 2020 — then again we do continue to feel the lingering effects of the pandemic year.
Take this is whole NBA play-in tournament, for example. Seriously, what’s that all about?
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Due to the league shortening the regular season by 10 games this season (and I would argue, plummeting ratings in recent years), Commissioner Adam Silver’s crew decided to add a little spark to the most recent postseason format. That means 10 teams instead of 8 in each conference make the playoffs, but only the top 8 seeds actually make it to see the light of day in a 7-game series.
That means no wiggle room. Absolutely no room of error.
Little did Silver and his fat cats know at the time that the all-mighty Lakers machine would be forced to duke it out with three others in the play-in tournament. Injuries can happen to anybody at any time, and if you’re not equipped to handle em’, get ready to sit back and watch a team’s stock plummet quicker than Black Tuesday.
As for a group who was equipped to deal with the injury bug, the Jazz proved they could stay formidable even without two All-Stars in the lineup. Since Donovan Mitchell’s ankle sprain, Utah finished out the regular season winning 11 of their last 17 games. Turns out, Jordan Clarkson and/or Bojan Bogdanovic can carry a team offensively when they have to.
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As for LeBron James, Lakers fans couldn’t be happier to see him return to L.A. just in time to help them defend their title. Then again, if they were to repeat this time around — or even come close — it would be a Herculean achievement, considering the hole they currently find themselves in.
And thanks to a clutch LeBron 3-pointer near the end of Wednesday's Lakers-Warriors play-in game, the Jazz now await the winner of Friday's Warriors-Grizzlies contest to learn who they'll face in the first round of the playoffs.
So, there you have it. A great test looms for Quin Snyder’s bunch right from the start. Steph Curry no longer has the help of Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant. But until the Jazz actually prove it in the playoffs, pundits will naturally always pick against them.
The top overall seed was a magnificent accomplishment. One that not even the great Karl and John could pull off together. It’s Donovan and Rudy’s team now. And favorite or not, it’s time to go make Jazz fans believe. Not in February, March and April; but in May, June and July.