How do you think the Utah Jazz felt watching Wednesday’s Lakers-Warriors play-in tournament game?
I imagine they were pretty scared.
Wednesday’s matchup between the No. 7 and No. 8 seed was a classic. Steph vs. LeBron? Draymond vs. Anthony Davis? It doesn’t get much better than that.
And while the Lakers had just a bit more than the Dubs at the final buzzer, the 48-minute affair proved that both teams, despite their need for an extra game (or two) to make the postseason, are legitimate threats to make some real noise in the playoffs.
That distinction is particularly important for the Warriors, for whom there were legitimate questions about entering Wednesday’s contest.
If you had any doubts about the Warriors’ ability to compete this postseason, those worries were put to bed Wednesday night.
In a loss.
This team might just make a real postseason run.
The Dubs’ smallball attack worked (but not well enough to win) against a team that, in theory, should have been a nightmare matchup for them.
That should make for sleepless nights among the rest of the NBA.
Because I imagine after playing the Lakers, other opponents will look paltry to the Dubs.
That includes the Memphis Grizzlies, the team the Warriors have to beat for the second time in a week on Friday to actually advance to the playoffs (the Dubs are 3.5-point home favorites), and the team that’s waiting for the winner of that contest, the Jazz.
Now, Utah is the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and had the best record in the NBA this season, winning 72 percent of its games.
But the Jazz is the textbook definition of a “regular-season team.”
The Warriors, meanwhile, have been scrapping and clawing for weeks. The playoffs started for them weeks ago, and they were arguably the best team in the NBA over the final 20 games of the season. Wednesday, they were able to carry that form into their showdown with the Lake Show.
What the Warriors are doing is translatable. They might not have another option, but their option plays.
Every Lakers center not named Anthony Davis struggled against the Warriors’ pixie defense, and even he had plenty of issues against Green. What’s Rudy Gobert going to do against it? And what is Curry going to do to Gobert in pick-and-roll?
And then what happens to the Jazz in those inevitable crunch-time moments?
Every team needs a dude to take those big shots. For the Warriors, it’s Curry. Yes, the Dubs have to work a bit harder to get their point guard the space he needs, but if that space is created is there anyone on the planet you’d rather have shooting the ball?
The Jazz, meanwhile, turn to Donovan Mitchell, who has been out with a sprained ankle since mid-April and who isn’t guaranteed to play once the first round starts Sunday.
But while Mitchell has the confidence and certainly the ability to get hot, on the whole, he is an inefficient scorer. There are 43 players in the league who took 15 or more shots per game and played 40 or more games this season. When it comes to effective field goal percentage, Mitchell is 29th of 43 — far closer to players like Collin Sexton, Ja Morant, Russell Westbrook, and John Wall than the top options: presumptive MVP Nikola Jokic, Zach LaVine, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, and some guy named Curry.
Perhaps the Jazz is so good for the first 40-something minutes of the game that the 6-foot-1 Mitchell’s ill-advised isolation jumpers won’t matter. After all, the Jazz is as deep a team as there is in the league, it can put the clamps down on defense, and it is better than in years past because of the addition of point guard Mike Conley.
But the Jazz is also yet to prove anything in the postseason before and their formula for wins might not translate. It lacks that all-important championship DNA that the Warriors possess in spades, even with an inexperienced supporting cast around Curry, Green, and Kevon Looney.
As strange as it is that the Jazz and Suns were the top two teams in the Western Conference this year, the strangest part might be on the horizon. The Lakers, by virtue of their win Wednesday, will play the Suns in the first round in a 2-7 matchup.
The Lakers are minus-220 (play $220 to win $100) favorites to win that series as a No. 7 seed. That’s not just being a favorite, that’s a downright prohibitive line.
And I wouldn’t be shocked if the Warriors were favorites over the Jazz, should Golden State advance.
Of course, that’s the trouble with this play-in tournament — the Warriors still have to win another game, Friday against the Grizzlies, and that contest won’t be easy.
But until that game is played, Utah will not be allowed to rest easy.
Because while these Dubs might only have one kind of smoke, but until they are fully extinguished, they’re a serious threat to every team — even the No. 1 seed — in the West.
Contributed by local news sources