SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – With little more than a month remaining in the NBA season, the Utah Jazz own the best record in the league. With 17 games left on the schedule, should the Jazz choose to rest key players down the stretch to be ready for the postseason?
While earning home-court advantage throughout the playoffs would be an enormous accomplishment for the team, it would mean significantly less if at the cost of their players’ health.
In a recent article by ESPN, several NBA front office members expressed their concern about the league’s condensed schedule and the possibility of injury to key players.
Earlier this week, the Denver Nuggets championship hopes were dashed as Jamal Murry was lost for the season with an ACL injury that will drastically alter the franchise’s future.
Understanding the risk of injury over the final month of the season and the advantage of owning home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, how should the Jazz manage rest?
How Should The Jazz Manage Rest?
Entering the final stretch of the season, the Jazz find themselves in an enviable situation. Not only do they own the best record in the league, but they also have the second-easiest remaining schedule.
Over the final 31 days of the regular season, the Jazz will play 17 games, have three sets of back-to-backs, and have one stretch of two days off between games.
Among those 17 games, only four are against playoff teams, two of which will come against the Lakers who are expected to be without either LeBron James or Anthony Davis. The team’s other two matchups come against the Nuggets minus Murray, and on the road against the Phoenix Suns.
The Jazz lead the Suns by 1.5 games entering the final stretch of the season, and while they have the second-easiest remaining schedule, the Suns have the fourth-most difficult. According to most end-of-season projections, the Jazz are on pace to win the West comfortably by four games.
The Jazz have already been cautious with guard Mike Conley after a hamstring injury in February caused him to miss six games. Since returning, the veteran guard has appeared in just one set of the team’s six sets of back-to-backs.
In Tuesday’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Jazz were without Jordan Clarkson who has missed who missed his fourth straight game with an ankle sprain. Joe Ingles also sat due to left knee soreness.
For the first time this season, the Jazz allowed forward Royce O’Neale to miss the game due to rest on the injury. Jazz coach Quin Snyder explained the decision before the game.
“With your entire team, I think in order to get better you have to be as fresh as you can be,” Snyder said.
With freshness in mind, will the Jazz continue to rest players down the stretch? At this point, it seems likely.
If Conley continues to sit either end of back-to-back games, he’ll get a least three more days off when the Jazz host the Indiana Pacers before traveling to face the Lakers, play at Phoenix before hosting the Toronto Raptors, and when the Jazz host the Nuggets and Houston Rockets in back-to-back games.
Donovan Mitchell has already sat one game in recent weeks after the team experienced plane trouble on the way to Memphis and could be a candidate to rest more games having played the most minutes of any player on the Jazz this season.
Rudy Gobert has played the third-most minutes of any Jazzman this season and is one of three players along with Bojan Bogdanovic and Georges Niang, all of whom could be candidates to rest down the stretch.
Gobert is the team’s most irreplaceable player and could benefit from added days off to close the season. Bogdanovic has struggled while recovering from a wrist injury last season but has recently found a groove over the last games. However, having yet to miss a game this season, he too could likely use any extra time off the Jazz could find.
When Could The Jazz Rest Players?
With a narrow lead and an advantageous schedule down the stretch, the Jazz should have plenty of options on how to rest players depending on their strategy.
If the goal is the maximize consecutive days off, resting Conley against the Pacers on Friday would be a wise decision. Conley played Tuesday against the Thunder but could get three days off if he sits out Friday before facing the Lakers on Saturday.
For other roster players, the Jazz could find extra days off by resting starters in Houston on April 21 before having two days at home before hosting the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Rockets are just 3-30 in their last 33 games which could allow the Jazz an opportunity to rest one or two key starters while still having an excellent chance to leave Houston with a win.
The Jazz close the season with games on the road against the Thunder and the Sacramento Kings. Depending on the Suns record and if the Jazz are set on owning the best record in the league, both games could provide opportunities to rest players before the season.
Additionally, the Jazz have three two-game series’ left against the Lakers, Timberwolves, and San Antonio Spurs before the end of the season. The player have discussed the added intensity of playing the same team twice, which could give the Jazz incentive to rest players on either end of the series sets for added rest.
However the Jazz choose to rest players, it’s safe to assume that O’Neale’s day off Tuesday won’t be the last for members of the starting lineup this season.
While they won’t want to break their rhythm over the closing stretch, the Jazz have a good opportunity to finish the year with the best record in the NBA, while entering the playoffs with a well-rested roster.