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Scott G Winterton
Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) and Utah Jazz center Ekpe Udoh (33) laugh as they talk after practice as the Utah Jazz prepare to play the Houston Rockets in game one of the NBA playoffs at the Toyota Center in Houston on Sunday, April 14, 2019.
HOUSTON — It wasn’t a stoic scene at the Toyota Center following Sunday’s shootaround for the Utah Jazz.
Guys were rather loose, even engaging in chats about fashion and topics non-basketball related.
Ahead of Game 1 of their first-round series against the Houston Rockets, the team didn’t want to forget that a game of basketball was being played.
So, much more than the preparation, analytics or statistics, the squad is just happy to be playing on this national stage as the fifth seed with tip-off set for 7:30 p.m. MT on TNT.
“It’s kind of why you play all year, you play the 82 games and you try and win as many as possible to try and give yourself a chance to be here,” said Jazz forward Joe Ingles. “Now we’re here and ready to go.
“The last couple weeks, obviously clinching earlier than we have in the past, you don’t think ahead but you know you’re kind of getting ready for something other than an offseason so we’ve got a great opportunity here,” he added.
Killeen, Texas native Royce O’Neale said he limited his personal tickets to just six as he’s competing roughly 200 miles away from his hometown for the second consecutive postseason.
Sure, the challenge of guarding reigning MVP James Harden will be tough, but the second-year professional has a different approach to making things uncomfortable for him this time around.
“Drawing fouls and his step-back game are two things that he’s great at so you’ve just got to make it hard for him, make it tough on him, make things uncomfortable for him,” O’Neale said of defending Harden. “You can’t stop everything but taking away a lot of stuff.”
As rookies, O’Neale and teammate Donovan Mitchell were still adapting to the atmosphere of postseason games but it’s no longer a shock to them and they look to have fun while performing on the top level.
O’Neale even crashed Ingles’ media scrum with his cell phone out to capture footage alongside reporters, which forced the Austrailian to wrap up quickly with a smile on his face.
“You can’t be serious all the time, you’ve got to have some fun with it,” O’Neale said. “I mean just playing the game is fun so at shootaround we’re laughing and stuff, but we know that once the ball goes up later, everybody is serious and more locked in, but just having fun and being able to basketball each day.”