US sport: Mitchell livens things up for Jazz as Clippers fight to keep him quiet

The NBA play-offs are nearing the halfway point. We are entering the second week of Conference semi-final play, with just eight teams left.

In-form talisman Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz drives in front of LA Clippers' Kawhi Leonard in a closely-fought Western Conference play-off series. Picture: Alex Goodlett/Getty

In the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers were shocked by the fifth seeded Atlanta Hawks in the first match of the series before re-establishing the form that earned them top seed status with two 12-point wins to comfortably take a 2-1 series lead. In the other Eastern Conference semi-final, the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucs are locked at two games each, with the home team winning each of the four games so far.Out West, the Utah Jazz and LA Clippers are locked in a tight battle, with the Jazz currently leading 2-1.Utah took the opening two games in Salt Lake City, but lost when they travelled to Los Angeles.Game one was a thriller with ten lead changes and the scores being tied on seven other occasions. The Jazz eventually took the lead and clung on to the end, on the back of another outstanding 43-point performance from Donovan Mitchell Game two was more of the same, as Mitchell collected 37 points. The Jazz forced the Clippers to miss seven straight shots late as they once again rallied to come from behind.In the first matchup in LA, the Clippers quietened the Jazz attack and brought the series back to 2-1 with a comfortable win.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The series is set on a knife-edge with an intriguing battle ahead between the individual offensive play of Utah talisman Mitchell taking on the solid teamwork of the Clippers.The Phoenix Suns, who a little over a week ago took down the LA Lakers and handed LeBron James his first-ever first-round exit from the play-offs, have become the first team to book a conference final spot.The Suns wasted no time in dismantling the third seeded Denver Nuggets sweeping them 4-0 in the series.The Nuggets will be disappointed to have lost the four straight games, with the closest loss being in-game four, where they lost by seven points.The sweep is especially disappointing for the Nuggets after they secured a 2-1 series win over the Suns in the regular season. Indeed, the Clippers were the only other team to beat the Suns in a series this season.While the Suns will be overjoyed that they can now rest up and focus on the Conference finals, they have to be careful not to lose that match sharpness.

The Jazz v Clippers series could easily go to game seven on Sunday.That could mean that the Western Conference finals wouldn't start until a few days after Sunday putting the Suns out of action for ten days.Rest is good this late in a season, a chance for players to get some treatment and work out those niggles, but too much could stymie the tide and remove the momentum they have carried to this point.The Phoenix management will be telling everyone, publicly at least, this is good. But, behind closed doors, I expect them to be working the team hard to keep their fitness and sharpness at their peak levels.

With just one series to go until the NBA finals, even a little rustiness could cost them a season worth of work.