Utah Finding Balance Ahead of Season Opener

Ryan Kostecka
Oct 16, 2021 6:25 PM ET

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 13: Royce ONeale #23 and Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz embrace before the preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks on October 13, 2021 at vivint.SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images) (Credit: Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

Utah is four days away from beginning the 2021-22 season against Oklahoma City on Oct. 20—and for head coach Quin Snyder, the next couple of days are all about finding the perfect balance. 

During that time, Snyder believes it’s essential to continually stoke the competitive fire the Jazz have been practicing with for the last few weeks. But he also believes it’s important to make sure the players don’t get too physical with one another to the point they’re not entirely healthy for the Thunder.

“Having that longer stretch, it’ll be an opportunity for us to really dig in on some of the film and prioritize the things we want to see,” Snyder said after Wednesday’s final preseason game. “Then look at the week and see what makes sense from a health standpoint to have our guys in as good physical condition as they can be to play.”

According to the players, the last two days of practice have continued to be very physical and competitive—precisely what they want. As many of them have said throughout training camp and the preseason, they believe that these practices will help them later in April, May, and June.

“Practice man, we been going at it,” Hassan Whiteside said. “They’ve been pretty much feeling like games. We’ve been scripting and going through a lot of plays. … Finding different ways to attack the way teams guard us. I think it’s hard, though, for the season to stay like that. But right now, I think it’s getting us in better shape and better read and reactions, it’s helping me a ton.”

The Jazz understand what’s at stake for them this season, and they’re approaching this year with a vastly different mindset.

They’ve spent the last two pandemic-shortened seasons establishing an identity on both ends of the court. Donovan Mitchell has emerged as a certified star, Rudy Gobert is the best defensive player in the game, and Jordan Clarkson is the most feared sixth man in the league. 

Combine those three players with the rest of their teammates, and Utah has an excellent chance to do something special—a realism they’re embracing and not running from.

“We really feel like we have an opportunity to do something special,” Gobert said. “You don’t get that many of those windows in your career, so it’s a great opportunity for us, no matter what has happened, to really try to be the best we can be, and it’s exciting. It’s exciting after all those years of losing learning, losing learning, to be a part of a group that wants to do something even better.”

If something special indeed ends up happening, the Jazz will be able to look back on those physical and competitive practices in early October as one of the main reasons.

But for those wondering if that competitive nature stays on the court or follows the team into the locker room, Whiteside answered that question with a laugh.

“It’s competitive, we talking trash and we going at each other, it’s really competitive,” he said. “And then we go to the locker and talk more trash. … Joke and laugh and talk more trash about the next time.”

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