Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder talks to guard Donovan Mitchell (45) and guard Mike Conley (11) during the game against the Denver Nuggets at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)
Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Toronto coach Nick Nurse almost seemed jealous before Thursday’s game.
He answered a number of questions about how his team is handling the injuries to OG Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa, and then he thought of the Utah Jazz’s injury report.
“I don’t think anyone is on it,” Nurse said.
For the first time all season, Utah had a clean injury report. There was no one out, no one questionable, no one even probable. All hands were on deck.
For a team that believes its season ended early last summer due to injuries to Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley, and whose major offseason acquisition had undergone offseason surgery, that felt significant. There’s a lot of luck when it comes to injuries (Jazz fans, feel free to start knocking on wood now), but it’s not all luck.
Joe Johnson is still having an impact
Conley landed hard. He had just been leveled by Miami’s Tyler Herro flying in with an out-of-control contest. Conley went up for his trademark floater and Herro hip checked him in the air, sending both players down to the court.
Herro fell onto Conley’s legs and the Jazz point guard stayed on the court for a few moments as he looked a bit shaken up — or maybe it was because he assumed he’d be shaken up. After taking a quick diagnosis on his own body, Conley realized he was just fine. His legs had survived the hard collision and the ensuing fall. No harm done.
He popped up and started telling all his teammates, “It’s working!”
It was former Jazz forward and multi-time NBA All-Star Joe Johnson who first got Conley onto the idea of taking up yoga. Johnson famously incorporated hot yoga into his regiment during his time in Utah and believed the practice helped extend his career.
Conley saw Johnson, who still keeps in contact with Jazz coaches, on the other end of FaceTime calls dripping with sweat after just completing a yoga session.
“Hey, Mike,” Johnson yelled to him. “It’ll add years to your career.”
Conley gave it a try this offseason after two seasons worth of hamstring issues had him searching for something to keep his body right for the full season. He started to feel the effects almost immediately. His body felt loose, his joints felt more free, and his legs were able to move in different ways.
He did yoga religiously throughout the offseason, and now makes sure to carve out some time to keep up the practice whenever he has some free moments; he has to keep it up now. He feels he has proof that it’s keeping him healthy. Last season, he thinks he may have been injured from the collision with Herro.
“I was really excited about getting up from that,” Conley said.
A strange way to regain confidence
Mitchell compared it to post-traumatic stress. No matter how much he tried to not think about his ankle sprain that curtailed Utah’s season last June, it would still creep up. When he jumped, when he landed, when he made a quick directional change, the ankle would be in the back of his mind.
Then he tweaked it again.
In a win over Sacramento in early November, Mitchell sprained his right ankle. He finished out the contest but was ruled out of the next one. That was the only one he missed due to the ankle. It was a strange occurrence that actually boosted his confidence in his recovered ankle.
He knew then he could tear or roll it slightly and still be fine.
“It’s like OK, it can take a beating,” Mitchell said. “You can kind of come back, you don’t have to worry about that same spot hurting, or worry about the same thing you worried about in the playoffs.”
Mitchell missed just one game due to the minor ankle sprain.
“To be able to sprain it (in a regular way) and come right back without having to do hours of treatment, it feels good,” Mitchell said.
Rudy Gay runs an extra mile
Rudy Gay just completed one of his toughest offseason’s. For a guy that tore his Achilles and returned less than a year later, that’s saying something.
His offseason heel surgery was designed to fix an issue that nagged at him for years. The painful bite coming from his right heel was an endless reminder of an injury he first sustained in late 2017, and he wanted that gone from his life. Surgery helped solve that, but then came the recovery.
While Gay waited to get cleared for full participation at practice, he’d hop on exercise equipment that was set up near the practice courts and work.
That allowed him to begin getting his wind back as he learned to run on the surgery repaired heel. It also kept him close to the team. Gay has been praised by just about everyone on the team for how he’s stayed engaged and involved as he’s recovered. Without playing a game, he’s already become a leader in the locker room.
His debut likely had him garnering even more respect.
Gay scored a team-high 20 points in his Jazz debut. He wasn’t done, though. After the game, which Gay played for 18 minutes, he hopped on the tradmill and ran a mile.
“It’s tough playing up here in the elevation,” Gay said.
He’s got his health back. Now, he’s trying to reclaim his stamina.