The Utah Jazz are the top seed in the Western Conference for the first time this millennium. But they didn’t even get to the tipoff of Game 1 in their first-round series with the Memphis Grizzlies before things started to go sideways.
The Jazz wound up losing home-court advantage with a 112–109 loss in Salt Lake City on Sunday. As a bonus, they’ve alienated Donovan Mitchell, their best player, in the process. Now it might fall to an unlikely source to save the series and the season for the Jazz. Enter Dwyane Wade.
Wade never played for the Jazz in his 16-year NBA career, but the future Hall of Famer purchased an ownership stake in the franchise in April. Since retiring in 2019, Wade struck up a friendship with tech mogul Ryan Smith. Smith finalized his purchase of the Jazz last fall and convinced Wade to join as a minority partner. Wade may be the only man connected to the franchise who can fix the scrape in which the team finds itself.
Donovan Mitchell, Dwyane Wade relationship may be crucial
Before the series opened Sunday, Utah Jazz All-Star Donovan Mitchell said he was ready to return to the court after missing the final 16 games of the regular season with an ankle injury. During a media availability after Sunday’s shootaround, Mitchell said he was good to go, per Tim MacMahon of ESPN.
“I feel good. Always going to be soreness. I feel good. I’m ready to go tonight. No Pain. I’m excited to get going.”Donovan Mitchell
The Jazz opted to play it safe and kept Mitchell inactive. To say the player was incensed would be to understate the situation enormously, according to an ESPN report. Mitchell kept his public reaction mild with a single tweet.
Utah didn’t list Mitchell on its injury report on Saturday or early Sunday, and Mitchell had practiced the three days before Game 1. However, the training staff recommended Mitchell remain out, and theirs is the final word on such matters.
Now Wade might be the one to mend fences between an angry Mitchell and team officials.
Wade is in Utah and has a good history with Mitchell
The Utah Jazz were to practice Monday in advance of a near must-win Game 2 scheduled for Wednesday night. Dwyane Wade is with the team in Salt Lake City and has a long history of injury management as a player, especially in the playoffs. Wade was part of three NBA championship teams with the Miami Heat and battled knee issues for much of his career.
The ankle injury Donovan Mitchell sustained in an April 16 victory over the Indiana Pacers is the first major health issue of his NBA career. Mitchell missed just 11 games in his first three seasons and had sat just three times this season before hurting his ankle. Sunday marked the first time in his career Mitchell missed a postseason contest.
Utah coach Quin Snyder acknowledged Mitchell was angry and praised his competitiveness.
How important is Game 2 to the Utah Jazz?
If the Grizzlies beat the Utah Jazz again in Game 2, it might take more than having Dwyane Wade as a part-owner to bring the Jazz back from the brink. Heck, it might be too much for prime DWade on the court.
Five No. 8 seeds have beaten No. 1 seeds since the NBA Playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984, none since the Philadelphia 76ers topped the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls in 2012. The Grizzlies are one of the teams to do it, bumping off the San Antonio Spurs in 2011. The others to pull it off include the 2007 Golden State Warriors over the Dallas Mavericks, the 1999 New York Knicks stunning the Heat, and the Denver Nuggets ambushing the Seattle SuperSonics in 1994.
The Jazz would be fighting another uphill battle with a Game 2 loss. Only five teams in NBA Playoffs history have come back to win a series after dropping the first two games at home. The last was the Boston Celtics, who fell into an 0–2 hole against the Bulls in the first round in 2017.
The others include:
- Dallas over Houston (2005 first round)
- Houston over Phoenix (1994 Western semifinals)
- Phoenix over LA Lakers (1993 first round)
- LA Lakers over Golden State (1969 Western semifinals)
In a perfect world for the Utah Jazz, Donovan Mitchell comes back with a vengeance in Game 2. Dwyane Wade might intervene; he might not.
But Wednesday night is huge for the Jazz. A loss would push them into dangerous territory on many levels.
Statistics and historical data courtesy of Basketball Reference.