Of all the what-ifs and hypotheticals that have crept into the minds of Utah Jazz fans in the eight months since the Denver Nuggets sent the Jazz home from the NBA Bubble, one persists above all others: What if Bojan Bogdanovic had been there?
The forward might have answered that question on Friday night in Salt Lake City.
Bogdanovic scored a career-high 48 points to lead the Jazz past MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets, 127-120, at Vivint Arena.
“Every time that I shoot, I thought that it’s going in,” Bogdanovic said. “The team was really looking for me the whole game. The coaching staff was trying to draw plays for me. It was a big night and a big win for us.”
Bogdanovic did his damage efficiently, connecting on 16 of 23 attempts from the field. He did it consistently, scoring at least 11 points in each quarter. He also had eight rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Most importantly, Bogdanovic helped the Jazz improve to 49-18 on the year and keep their grip on the West’s No. 1 seed.
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) May 8, 2021
“He’s had many of those games, but obviously tonight was the biggest one,” All-Star center Rudy Gobert said. “He’s been playing amazing for us. He’s a big reason why we’ve been winning, four in a row. Tonight, was a big game and he stepped up big time.”
What did Jazz head coach Quin Snyder see from the sharpshooting Croatian?
“It’s what didn’t we see from him tonight,” Snyder said. “He was making great reads. He really scored every way possible: stuff in transition, catch-and-shoot 3s, off the dribble. And even late when they started to blitz him, he found Rudy [Gobert] a couple of times, which says a lot when you have it going the way he does. He’s just being aggressive and he’s in a great place mentally.”
Bogdanovic was not in that place earlier this season. As he worked himself back from the wrist surgery that ended his season in May, Bogdanovic struggled to find his form at times. It appears he has found his touch just in time for the Jazz, helping his squad stay atop the West even with Donovan Mitchell (right ankle) sidelined, and playing his best ball with the playoffs approaching.
“I’m getting in the right shape at the right moment, right before playoffs,” Bogdanovic said.
Mitchell and Jamal Murray, the stars of last season’s spectacular first-round showdown between Denver and Utah, were both missing due to injury Friday. Mitchell’s absence, though, has afforded Bogdanovic an opportunity to shoulder more offensive duties, helping him play his way through his early-season issues.
“I’m just trying to be aggressive. They need me to score more without, especially, Donovan,” Bogdanovic said this week. “I would love to have him back on the floor with us. With him out, I know I’m going to have more shots than I used to have this season. So I can be a little bit patient. I don’t have to hunt my shot and take bad shots. So I’m playing kind of relaxed and it’s good for me to get my confidence back and be ready for the playoffs. …
“Confidence is everything for every player in this league.”
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) May 8, 2021
Donovan Mitchell’s right ankle was evaluated again Friday, but it will be at least one more week before the Utah Jazz All-Star is able to suit up.
“Every day, he’s coming and working hard and doing everything he can to get back,” head coach Quin Snyder said.
Mitchell’s injury will be assessed again next Friday. At that point, the Jazz will only have one or two games remaining on their schedule. But with a week before the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, Snyder said he was not worried about integrating Mitchell.
“Guys are able to adapt,” he said. “I think healthy by playoff time is the most important thing, or healthy in general.”
The Houston Rockets land at Vivint Arena on Saturday night. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.