Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) puts an Elf hat on Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) during a postgame interview as the Utah Jazz defeat the Portland Trail Blazers in an NBA basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018. Jazz won 117-96. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
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SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell has fond memories of Christmas Day.
The toys and gifts were good, of course, but it’s the 10 hours of watching NBA basketball that he still smiles about. He’d plop down in front of a television around noon and not leave until the final west coast games wrapped up.
That was Christmas.
Like many young ballers, Mitchell imagined himself one day playing on Christmas Day. Maybe he would one day be leading the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, or maybe he’d be playing in Los Angeles Lakers purple and gold.
He was the star of the national stage. In those fantasies, however, he never really gave much thought to whom he’d be playing against.
With how Saturday’s Christmas matchup against Dallas (8:30 p.m. MST, ESPN) is shaking up, that’s a good thing.
Luka Doncic and Tim Hardaway Jr. are among seven Dallas players who are currently in the league’s health and safety protocols. Kristaps Porzingis’ (right toe soreness) status for Saturday’s Christmas nightcap is also uncertain.
The Mavericks have signed various players to fill the gaps on the roster, such as Carlik Jones, Brandon Knight, George King, Marquese Chriss, Charlie Brown, and Theo Pinson. All but Brown got minutes in the Mavericks’ loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.
“You could be out there playing against me Ryan and I don’t care,” Mitchell told me. “We are playing on Christmas. It’s a blessing to be able to play on that day.”
Dallas isn’t alone in having an Omicron-variant-fueled outbreak. Far from it, actually. Doncic is also among several All-NBA players who are likely to sit out during Christmas, including Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant and Atlanta’s Trae Young.
Among the Christmas Day participants, only Phoenix and Utah are without a COVID-19 case (as of this writing, at least).
So bah humbug?
Not to Mitchell.
Line up anyone — a G League team, the kids across the street, even the media, and he’ll happily play. To him, nothing can take the steam out of playing on Christmas.
“No, it’s Christmas. No way,” Mitchell said before adding: “Obviously, it would be nice if everybody was out there and healthy but as far as us, we can control what we can control, and I’m gonna be excited to play out there. I know our teammates are, I know the Mavs are. It doesn’t matter what’s going on, it’s a special day. It’s a special game and it’s an honor to play on that day.”
Dallas coach Jason Kidd is also taking the Christmas-spirit-filled view of the situation.
“That gives other guys the opportunity to play on Christmas that normally wouldn’t,” Kidd said. “So that will be a special time for them.”
It’ll be the sixth Christmas Game for the Jazz since moving to Utah, and the second in four years. The Jazz defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 117-96 on Christmas in 2018.
Like that game, Saturday’s contest will also be in Salt Lake City, which is something to be cheerful about in and of itself.
“I’m glad that we are playing at home,” Rudy Gobert said. “I don’t get to see my family often, so being able to play in front of them in Utah, it’s amazing. It’s fun. It’s fun for me, it’s fun for them and it’s fun for the game. We know how many people watch those games at home and in a family environment. So we are going to try to give them some good basketball.”
Even if it’s not against the stars of Dallas.