New York, N.Y. - Everybody loves Joe Ingles.
The Utah Jazz really love Joe Ingles - especially this season.
The Australian has morphed into a real life Iron Man - he hasn't missed a game since December 16, 2015 and currently leads the league in consecutive games played (293) - and for a franchise that has had to deal with countless injuries to key guys over the past few seasons, Ingles' durability has been invaluable.
Since the calendar turned over to 2019, the Jazz have succumbed to injury once again - losing Ricky Rubio, Raul Neto and Dante Exum all to injury at one stage or another. Injuries have forced Ingles to play the role of distributor, but unlike Iron Man, whose primary weapons are rays shot from the palms of his gauntlets, Ingles has been dishing hot passes from his hands, averaging a career-high 5.4 assists (second on the team) in 2018-19.
"With this team we've got we play unselfishly; it hasn't changed too much for me because throughout the game we all handle it at times," he said following the Jazz' win over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. "When all three of them were out it just makes things a bit tougher; me and Donovan [Mitchell] handle it a lot more.
"Obviously when it's all three of them out it's a little different but hopefully they can play a couple games in a row and we'll be alright."
Ingles entered the NBA with a reputation as a shooter, but if you've watched the Australian play basketball over the course his career, you know that he is just as comfortable handling the ball as he is knocking down long-range triples.
Last season Jazz coach Quinn Snyder called Ingles a "glue guy" as he was forced to try different line-ups on the fly due to injury, the one constant being the 6'8 Australian. Since January, as his point guards have missed games, Snyder has looked to Ingles once again to handle more of the on-court leadership role.
"Sometimes when we talk about 'glue' [guys], the way that Joe plays I think allows those things to happen," Snyder says. "When you think of his playmaking; that helps make people better, that connects him more to that analogy.
"There was a point for about a month where we were thin at the point guard - Ricky, Raul and Dante were out - and we asked Joe to carry a big load to handle the ball, so I think he's been able to respond with whatever's been asked of him."
It was last Thursday that the Jazz were dealt their most recent injury blow with Exum's latest comeback from injury cut short by another setback - this time a partially torn patellar tendon in his right knee. Since then there has been much talk about whether Exum will be able to recover and return once more, but Ingles, who has been alongside Exum in Utah since his rookie season, says the team is right behind the young point guard.
"Our team, we support him," Ingles said. "Even this year we saw that great stretch when he came back from the ankle, he was playing unreal. We know what he can do, we know what he can do to help our team; obviously the key is to get him healthy right now. Once he's back we'll welcome him with open arms and hope that he gets back to that level that he's proved he can play at."
It's hard not to talk about the Jazz and not mention injuries. Just when it seems like this talented group is ready to take that next step, something happens that derails their season. With 11 games left in the regular season, the Jazz are locked in a battle for playoff seeding. Currently fifth in the Western Conference, 2.5 games back of Houston Rockets in third, but only .5 games ahead of the Thunder in eighth spot.
The team knows it must close out the season strongly.
"Take every game - as cliché as it sounds - as a one game series," Ingles said about the team's mentality heading into playoffs. "I think as much as you don't think about standings, in the back of our mind we all know we're right in the middle there. We could finish anywhere from middle to bottom to top ... whatever it is.
"We've just got to try win every game, at the end of the day we wanna be playing well by the end of the year; if we do lose a couple and we're still playing really well then that's the position we wanna be in."
Depending on how the seedings go, the Jazz may end up facing Golden State Warriors in the first round. The defending champs recently signed Ingles' good friend Andrew Bogut, who just completed his season in the NBL. Ingles was surprised that Bogut was headed back to the NBA, but said his national teammate will help the Warriors more than what people might think.
"I thought after his season, and being healthy and playing every game [in the NBL] that he was just going to enjoy the offseason," he said.
"It's an awesome opportunity for him to come back and play for the team that he won a championship for and help them. I think with who they've got already, and you add that; rebound, passer, defensive-minded guy who doesn't care about scoring, it's a perfect fit for that group. I think he'll really help them and hope he does well and loses in the [Conference Finals] to us."