So it wasn’t actually a game ... but for basketball-starved fans in Utah, Thursday’s scrimmage between the Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns was close enough.
Even though it didn’t count for anything, there was something special about the moment when Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell pulled up for a flawless 3-pointer off an assist from Mike Conley to start the scrimmage.
The Suns ended up building a big first-half lead and ended up with the scrimmage victory, 101-88. The final score, however, wasn’t what this contest was about.
It was about trying to shake off the rust of a four-month layoff, something a team like Utah has to do because the Jazz rely on execution to be their advantage at both ends of the court.
Utah certainly didn’t play at that level on Thursday. Defensively the Jazz gave up 22 points in the paint in the first quarter, while on the offensive end Utah ended up with a better shooting percentage from beyond the 3-point line than from inside that arc.
As the game progressed, however, the Jazz had moments where they seemed to get a little more cohesion.
After falling behind by 14 points early in the third quarter at 61-47, Utah put together its best stretch as the Jazz went on an 14-2 run to make it a one-score game.
During that push, Utah was getting in the passing lanes and forcing Phoenix turnovers, then making good decisions at the other end to get good looks.
That was as close as the Jazz got, however, as the Suns were able to pull away again before the end of the period and eventually secured the win.
Utah was led by 17 points from Mitchell, while Jordan Clarkson added 14 points, while Phoenix had a balanced scoring effort led by Deandre Ayton scoring 14 points.
The Jazz played a number of lineups in the scrimmage, trying to find successful combinations as they are trying to figure out how to replace Bojan Bogdanovic. Bogdanovic has season-ending wrist surgery in May.
The contest felt like a preseason game as there was plenty of laughter from the top players and the bench players got plenty of opportunities on the court late in the game.
The atmosphere felt more like a summer-league game, however, since the games are being played without fans. The arena has screens around the seating areas as well as plexiglass partitions around the scorers table.
The players don’t sit next to each other on a traditional bench but sit spaced out in chairs with their own water bottles and gear.
Non-players, coaches and officials all could be seen with masks, including the training staffs, the ball boys and the scorekeepers.
The Jazz have two more scrimmages as they will face Miami on Saturday at 2 p.m. and Brooklyn on Monday at 3:30 p.m. The scrimmages are part of efforts to get teams prepared for the restart of the 2019-20 season.
Utah is slated to be the first team to take the floor in a game that counts as the Jazz will face New Orleans on July 30. That game is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. MDT and can be seen on TNT.
All of the games will take place in Orlando as the NBA is attempting to protect teams from exposure to COVID-19.