It’s exciting. I’ve played in big games during my career, but not in the NBA playoffs. I’m looking forward to it. —Utah Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio
SALT LAKE CITY —– When the Utah Jazz take on the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, they’ll look little like the team that opened the 2017 playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Like last year, the Jazz are the Western Conference No. 5 seed and they finished the regular season with just three fewer regular-season wins than last year.
Otherwise, the Jazz have little in common with last year’s team that beat the Clippers in seven games before bowing to the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors in the second round.
Only five players are back from last year’s team as the Jazz are missing seven players that contributed 78.4 points per game in 11 playoff games, including their top three scorers in the playoffs, Gordon Hayward, George Hill and Joe Johnson.
The Jazz return only one player who started all 11 playoff games – forward Joe Ingles, who averaged 6.5 points in the playoffs. Rudy Gobert started nine games, sitting out two with injuries, while Derrick Favors started just two games as the Jazz went with veteran Boris Diaw in starting lineup in the other games.
Another big difference from last year is playoff experience. The Jazz are way less experienced than last year with just 120 games of playoff experience on the roster.
Last year’s squad had 315 games of playoff experience, led by Diaw (108), who won an NBA championship ring with San Antonio in 2014 and Johnson (101), while Hill had played in 75 playoff games. Even Shelvin Mack (21) had more experience than most players on this year’s Jazz team
If you ask coach Quin Snyder, playoff experience is a bit overrated.
“I don’t know that it’s an experience as much as it’s us having the right mindset in general,” he said. “Whatever game it is, whether it’s the playoffs or the 82 (regular-season) games, that level always goes up. You have to be prepared mentally.”
Jae Crowder, who was acquired in a mid-season trade with Cleveland has the most playoff experience with 35 games over the past four seasons –one with Dallas and three with Boston. Last year with the Celtics, Crowder averaged 13.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in 18 playoff games.
Jonas Jerebko played in 22 playoff games with Boston the last three years with Crowder, starting four of six games in 2016 when he averaged 9.2 points and 6.8 rebounds.
Epke Udoh has eight games of playoff experience with Milwaukee in 2013 and the Clippers in 201815
Except for four games in 2012, all of Favors' experience came last year as did Ingles and Gobert. Alec Burks, who missed last year’s playoffs with an injury, played four games in 2012, but may not play much this year, based on recent Jazz rotations.
Another Jazz player without any playoff experience is Ricky Rubio, who never made the playoffs during his six years in Minnesota.
“It’s exciting,” Rubio said. “I’ve played in big games during my career, but not in the NBA playoffs. I’m looking forward to it.”
The Jazz hope to be healthier than during last year’s playoffs. Gobert went down in the first 17 seconds of Game One with a knee injury. Then starting point guard George Hill missed three games of the Golden State series with a toe injury and was replaced in the starting lineup by Mack.
This year, the Jazz had some early injuries, but have been fairly healthy over the last few weeks of the season and only Thabo Sefolosha will be out of the lineup because of an injury.