It’s not a question of if we make the playoffs. We will. And when we get there, I have no fear of anyone — Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Denver…whoever. – Kobe Bryant
Over his 17 seasons in the NBA, Bryant could always guarantee that he’ll do something absolutely amazing with the basketball just about every time he steps onto the court.
He can shake off an 0-for-10 shooting start to bury a half dozen jumpers and an opponent in a fourth-quarter blink of an eye.
He can duck and whirl through traffic, change hands with the ball and squeeze through a crack in the defense for a clutch how-did-he-do-that bucket.
He can rise up with a hand in his face, almost down his throat, and knock down an impossible 3-pointer with the sheer grace.
He can lead a 20-0 comeback in the final 6 1/2 minutes to pull out a dramatic and critical 108-106 win over the Hornets.
But no matter how many times or how emphatically he says it, what Bryant cannot guarantee is all that can happen with the teams in front of his underachieving Lakers in the Western Conference standings. For even if the Lakers put on a strong finishing kick — say 14-6 or 13-7 — they will still likely need one or more of the Warriors, Rockets and Jazz to tumble.
Can it happen? Sure. Will it happen? Nothing guaranteed. Sometimes it’s not about the hunter, but the prey.
No. 6 — Warriors (35-27)
Back in those long ago days of early February when his team was threatening to compete for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the playoffs, coach Mark Jackson liked to shake his head and scowl at the doubters who didn’t think his Warriors could run and shoot and play defense all at the same time. Maybe those doubts were just premature. Over the past five weeks, the Golden State defense has fallen off any one of the area’s picturesque bridges and sunk to the bottom of the bay. (more…)
MILWAUKEE – Gordon Hayward didn’t have the heft of reputation necessary to get the foul call in the final seconds of regulation Monday night against Milwaukee. That’s what it looked like to some, anyway, when the Utah Jazz’s third-year swingman drove to the rim, went up, created some measure of contact with Bucks forward Larry Sanders and had the ball knocked away.
Others wrote it off as a classic “swallowing the whistle” moment, the three referees making a conscious decision — contrary to everything the league claims and preaches — not to determine the outcome. The ball wound up in Enes Kanter‘s hands left of the basket, and his short baseline shot off one foot hit the rim and fell out into a scramble at the horn. Milwaukee won the overtime 10-9 on eight points by J.J. Redick and the clinching jumper by Monta Ellis.
In a sense, though, the Bucks won the game when Sanders took advantage of a break in the action to set up that Hayward play with the refs.
Previously in the fourth quarter, Sanders had greeted Kanter in front of the rim but his feet were planted in the restricted area. When the chest-to-chest contact came, he was called for the foul.
So, Sanders said he sought out veteran ref Dick Bavetta and his mates to get them all on the same page for Utah’s final possession of the fourth quarter.
“I asked them to make sure that was the rule – I didn’t leave my feet on the big guy [Kanter] and it was a foul,” Sanders said. “So, the next time I made sure I left my feet and went straight up. Once you’re straight up, you’re OK. I felt like I was on the same page with the referees at that point. As long as I didn’t swipe down.”
Sanders wound up with 16 rebounds and six blocks, including one of Paul Millsap in the final minute of overtime. He has logged at least one block in 40 consecutive games, which means he has a ways to go to match Elmore Smith‘s franchise mark of 61 straight back in 1975-76.
The NBA’s leader in blocks (3.23 per game), Sanders also will get heavy support for Most Improved Player — his 9.0 points and 9.0 rebounds nearly triple what he averaged last season.
“[Hayward] comes to the basket, Larry’s there. That’s what he’s done for us all year,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “In my NBA experience, I look at Larry and I see a little bit of Tyson Chandler. Because, when I was in Chicago, Tyson was very similar: able to make a big play at the end of a game, a big block, a big tip-in or something like that. Larry has a lot of the same qualities.”
HANG TIME, Texas — The clock ticks down, the trade deadline draws near and all 30 NBA general managers are burning up their phones with possibilities realistic and absurd.
Some need to make deals to solidify playoff teams, others simply can’t bear the thought of sitting still. As Thursday gets closer, here are seven GMs with big decisions to make:
Danny Ferry, Atlanta Hawks
Is it finally time to give up on the hope that Josh Smith can be more than a numbers-gatherer in Atlanta? Ferry, the first-year Hawks’ GM, wasted no time in moving out Joe Johnson’s big contract. Part of the decision was that J-Smoove would blossom without Iso-Joe taking up a big part of the offense. Instead he’s averaging 1.4 fewer points and one rebound less than a year ago, his efficiency rating is down from 21.14 to 19.90 and he’s shooting only 50 percent from the free-throw line. The sense is that it’s “just time.” Still, that doesn’t mean Ferry has to move him. He’s positioned the Hawks so that they could afford to keep Smith and still sign a pricey free agent next summer. But that won’t stop the likes of the Bucks, Suns, Celtics, Wizards and Sixers from making a run. The Rockets have long had eyes for Smith, but might be more inclined to wait to make their moves in free agency.
Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics
Despite their 8-1 record since Rajon Rondo’s season ended due to torn knee ligaments, it’s too hard to see the Celtics making a serious and deep playoff run on the aging legs of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The obvious move would be with the 36-year-old Garnett and making that long-rumored deal to the Clippers (Eric Bledsoe). The challenge is getting K.G. to waive the no-trade clause in his contract. Can Ainge appeal to Garnett’s own best interest to get another ring or his loyalty to the Celtics organization to help them start over? Even if Rondo’s knee injury isn’t as severe as first thought and he’s able to get back on the floor for the start of training camp, the rebuilding in Boston has to start sometime. It might as well be now.
Billy King, Brooklyn Nets
If King could know for sure that Deron Williams will shake off the injuries and inefficiency and return to the All-Star form he showed in Utah, then he’d be more inclined to sit back and put his feet up. Or maybe not in the realm of Mikhail Prokhorov. The Russian billionaire owner is willing to shell out big bucks, but also expects immediate results and does not handle mediocrity well. See Avery Johnson, who was fired with a 14-14 record, a Coach of the Month title pinned to his resume. The Nets will likely try to get Paul Millsap from the Jazz and could be in the running for the popular Josh Smith. Last year’s All-Rookie team member MarShon Brooks is on the block. Would Charlotte’s offer of Ben Gordon for Kris Humphries be enough? The Nets have been so inconsistent that with the possibility of a first-round bounce due to a bad matchup looming, you have to believe King won’t sit still.
Donnie Nelson, Dallas Mavericks
“The Bank of Cuban is open.” That was team owner Mark Cuban’s declaration last month, but what must be determined is in which direction the Mavericks are headed right now. They enter the post-All-Star stretch six games under .500 and 4 1/2 games out of the last playoff spot in the West. If the Mavs decide they’re better off reloading with a fully-recovered Dirk Nowitzki next season, they certainly have a good trade chip in Vince Carter, who’d be a wonderful addition to any playoff contender. He could also bring in future assets for Shawn Marion, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand.
Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets
You put him in this slot just because Morey lives with an itchy trigger finger and might be inclined to make a deal just because he can. But with the James Harden steal under his belt and the free agency hits on Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, the Rockets will probably strike only if it’s a chance at a home run. With the youngest team in the league, a position in the West playoff race and a payroll that could make them big, big players in free agency, next summer is probably when they’ll make their move. But Houston is now big-game hunting for talent to play with Harden. If a chance to scoop up a true All-Star comes their way, Morey won’t hesitate.
Mitch Kupchak, L.A. Lakers
It’s almost obligatory to put the Lakers on any potential trade deadline list, despite Kupchak saying publicly that he’s not at all interested in dealing Dwight Howard or breaking up his All-Star group of underachievers at this point. He can’t trade Pau Gasol as long as the possibility exists that Howard walks as a free agent next summer — which it does. Besides, the Lakers problems are not about needing more players but getting the ones they have to play every night with passion.
Dennis Lindsey, Utah Jazz
Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson? Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap? With the contracts of both of the frontcourt veterans expiring, it was assumed since Day One of this season that the rookie GM Lindsey would have to deal one of them by the deadline, if for no other reason than to make room and more playing time for Derrick Favors. It would seem to make sense, but only if the Jazz can get a bonafide star in return. That’s what the 30-24 team lacks right now. But there is no reason to make a deal just to make a deal. The future is based on a young core of Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. Millsap is the more likely one to go, but maybe only for another expiring contract in return. Salt Lake City is not a desired location for free agents. But as the effects of the new collective bargaining agreement are felt and big names teams try to avoid the increasingly punishing luxury tax, players will want to simply get paid. Don’t expect a panic move here.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
Rondo seeking second opinion on ACL — A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com reports that Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, who was found to have a torn ACL on Sunday, will meet with several other doctors — including the famed Dr. James Andrews — as well as players from other sports to get a second opinion on the severity and recovery process from his injury:
“He (Dr. Andrews) is one that we’re definitely considering,” Rondo’s agent Bill Duffy, told CSNNE.com. “If he’s No. 1, there’s a couple 1As and 1Bs we’re looking at as well.”
Duffy said the second opinion on Rondo’s knee will not be made for at least another four or five days in order to allow the swelling to go down.
In addition, Duffy said they are in the process of setting up meetings with other athletes who have had similar injuries.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is among those that Rondo’s camp hopes to speak with very soon.
Peterson suffered a torn left ACL and MCL injury on Christmas Eve in 2011, and was back on the field for the season opener in September – less than nine months after the injury.
Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose suffered a torn left ACL injury during the first round of the playoffs against Philadelphia on April 28th last year, with his return likely to be shortly after the all-star break next month.
Duffy said Rondo’s trying to be as positive as he can about his injury.
“He’s distraught but he understands what he has to do,” Duffy said. “We have to have him channel all that energy into getting stronger and healthy as soon as possible.”
“I’m a competitor, I’m a guy that thinks I bring a lot to the table, and not being on the floor is something that I don’t like, I don’t appreciate,” Gasol said.
Gasol had seven points, seven rebounds and seven assists in 21 minutes as the Lakers built an 83-73 lead through the first three quarters.
“It’s a challenge,” Gasol said when asked about toeing the line and accepting D’Antoni’s decision so that he doesn’t take away from the team while still defending his personal ability. “We’re challenged every day, and I’m challenged every day to keep my calm and keep my peace and not let my emotions take over my words.”
Speaking out after a win against the Hornets might seem like poor timing from Gasol, but even while begrudgingly accepting a bench role, he stated his desire to continue to play in crunch time.
“I think the finishing is more important (than starting),” Gasol said recently. “I think the best players should finish off games. That’s just the way it’s got to be. When the game is on the line, you want to be on the floor. That’s more important.”
It was the same sentiment that led Gasol to be upset Tuesday.
“It’s fun to win but when a team comes back on you the way the Hornets did tonight and you are not there as a high-quality player and as a competitor, it’s frustrating,” Gasol said.
Aldridge always happy to see Dallas — Not surprisingly, LaMarcus Aldridge‘s phone was blowing up after his game-winning turnaround shot to sink the Mavs last night. What’s interesting, as The Columbian’s Candace Buckner points out, is that the former prep and college standout from Texas seems to particularly enjoy tormenting his hometown team:
LaMarcus Aldridge, a Dallas native, saved his best to down his hometown team, hitting the game-winning jump shot as time expired for the Trail Blazers’ 106-104 victory.
With a well-executed inbounds play, a flick of the wrist and a perfect jump shot, the Blazers (23-22) shook off a large second-half deficit after the Mavericks pulled ahead by 21 points. So by the time Aldridge returned to the Blazers locker room, his phone had over 20 messages on it. Just a glance and he could tell that his mother, Georgia, was about to make his cell phone battery die.
“She’s watching (the game),” said Aldridge, who finished with a game-high 29 points and also contributed 13 rebounds. “She texted me like five or six times.”
The family celebrated, the 18,888 in the Rose Garden rejoiced and even Aldridge – who so often just describes this whole NBA thing as a “job” – beamed broadly as teammates bum rushed him near the Dallas bench.
“He was smiling like a rookie after his first NBA game,” Nicolas Batum said, describing Aldridge.
He seems to be happiest devastating the hometown team.
Last April at the American Airlines Arena, Aldridge carried the Blazers to the 99-97 victory over the Mavericks with a step-back jumper at the buzzer. Then, Terry Stotts watched from the other sideline as a Dallas assistant coach. Surely, from Stotts’ perspective, this Aldridge game-winner felt a bit better.
“People can think what they want to think, but LaMarcus, there’s no question in my mind that he’s an All-Star,” Stotts said. “He didn’t have to make that shot to prove he’s an All-Star. He proves it every night.”
He also happens to prove it whenever he plays against Dallas.
Aldridge scores 21.2 points per game against the Mavericks, according to basketball-reference.com and the figure ranks as second highest in his career against any NBA team. Through the last four games versus Dallas, Aldridge has averaged 26.7 points and 11 rebounds.
Oden wants back in NBA; Cavs next? — Former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden is readying himself for an NBA return and the Heat and Cavs are reportedly on the top of his destination list. How likely is it he’ll be a Cav? Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer digs in:
Former Ohio State star Greg Oden is confident he will return to the NBA after his many knee injuries, but he would not venture a guess about whether he’ll wind up in Cleveland.
“I’m worried about the knee,” he told The Plain Dealer when asked if the Cavs could be a destination for him. “That’s it.”
Oden was in Columbus to take in the Buckeyes’ 58-49 victory over Wisconsin. He has been living in Columbus and taking classes, but he said now that he’s working out in his hometown of Indianapolis and splitting time between the cities.
Asked if he was playing at all, Oden said, “I’m just getting my knee ready so when things do happen I’ll be ready to play next year.
“I’m still in the rehab process, but I’m it taking slow. I could possibly be playing at this point, but I’ve done that before and I got injured before, so I’d rather take everything I am doing slow. Right now I’m just doing strength stuff with my knees.”
He said he was confident he would return to the NBA.
“I like how my knee is going, the way it’s going,” he said. “I still like the time I’m taking, just to make sure nothing happens. You can’t predict the future. But if it doesn’t happen, I’m happy.”
Stuckey, Frank mend fences — Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey and coach Lawrence Frank have had a touch-and-go relationship the last few days. But Terry Foster of the Detroit News reports that’s all behind both men now:
There’s peace again at The Palace. That’s if you believe Pistons coach Lawrence Frank and reserve guard Rodney Stuckey.
Frank ended the one-game benching of Stuckey in time for Tuesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Palace. But Stuckey was a non-factor during the Pistons’ 117-90 blowout loss to the Bucks at The Palace. He played 27 minutes and finished with just seven points.
Stuckey admitted the men clashed before the Pistons’ game Sunday in Orlando. Frank punished Stuckey by benching him for that game and refused to tell the media why. Frank was mostly close-mouthed again but he equated to a family squabble.
“Things happen every single day,” Frank said. “You deal with it and you move on. There are no grudges. Made a decision and we move on today. During the course of the season you are going to have a bunch of disagreements.”
Neither man would say what happened but it is believed they had a disagreement during practice.
Jazz corner market on youth?– The West-leading Oklahoma City Thunder often get a lot of credit for the way their youthful, lottery-picked duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook has helped them develop into a contender. But you’d likely be surprised to learn that the Thunder don’t have the most under-25 ex-lottery picks on their roster. According to Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News, that honor belongs to Utah:
Remember the NBA list of the 50 greatest players ever that came out about 15 years ago? Of those 50 players, all but a handful were top-10 selections and 32 of them were top-5 picks. Of the players who have played since that list came out, those that would be considered among the all-time greats — James, Duncan, Kevin Durant — most have been high draft picks.
That brings us to the Utah Jazz.
While five teams have more total lottery picks on their rosters (New York has the most with nine, but four are 38 years or older), no team has more under the age of 25. And the Jazz has the most under the age of 22 with Gordon Hayward (22), Derrick Favors (21), Alec Burks (21) and Enes Kanter (20).
One of the teams closest to the Jazz in terms of young, high lottery picks is Wednesday night’s opponent, New Orleans, which has three under the age of 22 in 19-year-old Anthony Davis, 20-year-old Austin Rivers and 22-year-old Al-Farouq Aminu.
Other teams with three lottery picks under age 22 include Washington (John Wall, Bradley Beal, Jan Vesely), Charlotte (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, Bismarck Biyombo) and Cleveland (Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson).
Walton takes on mentoring role — Ex-Laker Luke Walton wasn’t sure what his role would be when he was traded to the Cavs at last season’s trade deadline. But it’s become clear that the one-time starter in L.A. is embracing his role as a coach of sorts for Cleveland’s young big men Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller, writes Stephen Brotherson of HoopsWorld.com:
“At the beginning of the year, the coaches [told] me, you got to [help Thompson and Zeller],” Walton said. “So I knew that was going to be part of my role this year whether it was while I was playing or while I was not playing. I had a lot of good vets that had taught me a lot about this game, so when I am out there playing with these young talented big guys, if I see something that they are doing or I see something that would be more effective for them during a timeout, I will let them know or if we are in the game together, I will try to point it out so we can do it because if we do it in a game, it will reinforce it. They are both such great kids. They want to learn. They want to get better. It has been a lot of fun doing that.”
Thompson and Zeller have enjoyed playing with Walton this season. The veteran has been showing them how to be a facilitator and setting them up when they get open.
“[Walton is] fun,” Zeller said. “You know he is going to find you if you are open and he can make a lot of great plays. We have a lot of confidence in him that he can score, pass and defend. He is really a great all-around player.”
“He is a great passer,” Thompson said. “He keeps the offense flowing. He sees the court. He might not be the most athletic big guy or the tallest guy, but he is so smart that he knows where the ball needs to go, what works and what doesn’t work. We are blessed to have him on our team.”
“It’s awesome,” Walton said. “Obviously losing is very hard, but just being back out there on the court and being able to help some younger players, now having the opportunity to play again and play the way basketball is meant to be played with sharing the ball and passing, I am having a blast right now.”
ICYMI of the night: Before we all get a little too excited over the Lakers’ three-game win streak, let’s not forget there are still more kinks to work out … as this play below illustrates:
On the official score sheet, it was the midway point through the fourth quarter on Monday night.
In the minds of those laying the foundational bricks for the Jazz, it was a hopeful glimpse into the future.
Denver’s Danilo Gallinari had missed a 3-point shot from the left wing and Enes Kanter was there to gobble up the rebound. He looked up and fired a pass to Jamaal Tinsley, who was in a full sprint up the sideline. Tinsley swung it across the court to a sprinting Gordon Hayward and, with barely time for the ball to settle into his hands, Hayward hit the runaway freight train that was Derrick Favors barreling back on the left with a perfect feed for a slam dunk.
Six seconds, three passes, two points and not once did the ball hit the floor.
Some day down the line this should be a steady part of the Utah offensive diet — a huge helping of the 6-foot-10 Favors filling the lane on the fast break and filling up the box score.
In his third season, Favors is tugging at the reins to get loose, and eventually there will come a time when coach Ty Corbin won’t be able to keep him out of the starting lineup.
There were plenty who thought that time for the third-year power forward was the beginning of this season, and they were ready to move veteran Paul Millsap or center Al Jefferson to make room.
With his team playing unevenly a little more than a week ago, Corbin made his own move to put Favors into the starting lineup in place of Marvin Williams in an attempt to go big across the front line with Millsap and Jefferson.
However, that experiment lasted only two games — wins over Washington and Houston — as Favors could not find a comfort zone with his fellow bigs, shooting just 3-for-10 and 2-for-7, respectively. Favors’ overall scoring and rebounding numbers did not go up as his minutes stayed roughly the same, and the move actually left the Jazz more vulnerable defensively with Millsap at a decided disadvantage trying to keep up with opposing small forwards.
Perhaps the biggest downside to using all of the big men together as starters was making the Jazz more deliberate and ponderous on offense at a time when the league is more about quickness and pace.
Favors scored 16 and grabbed 14 rebounds in his first game back as a reserve in Friday’s win over the Kings, then was handcuffed by foul trouble and didn’t manage a field goal in the rematch the next night in Sacramento.
With the Nuggets running the floor and making shots, they built a 16-point lead on Utah Monday night. Then, Favors came on strong — scoring 12 of his 19 points and playing powerfully around the basket to spark a second-half comeback in a 105-103 win.
The win kept the Jazz 6-0 at home, the first time they’ve started that quick since the 2008-09 season, and yet they remain rather inept on the road and appear in their current state no threat to be much different than the just-better-than-.500 team that sneaked into the No. 8 spot in the playoffs last season.
Without a sudden change in character, it will keep the heat on the Jazz to think about moving Millsap or Jefferson ahead of the February trade deadline.
Though it’s consistency out of him that would force the issue, it’s a thought that gets more tempting every time the Jazz run a break that end with Favors barreling toward the hoop with another glimpse of the future.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – It took nearly 32 minutes for Mo Williams to splash his first triple Wednesday night in his return to the team that drafted him nine years ago.
It came from straightaway, and 23 seconds later he buried a second 3-pointer from the left wing. His night back where it all began would end with only those two treys going down on a rather tame, for Williams, four attempts from downtown Salt Lake.
Yet his rapid-fire 3s in the third quarter counted as the two biggest buckets in the Jazz’s runaway season-opening victory over the Dallas Mavericks. A 74-74 tie suddenly became an 80-74 Utah lead and then Williams’ third consecutive bucket for eight straight points ultimately led to an 18-2 burst to close the third quarter leading 92-76.
That two long balls ignited the decisive run in the Jazz’s 113-94 victory is drenched with significance. (more…)
HANG TIME, Texas – They were not able to reel in their No. 1 free agent target Deron Williams and they watched future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd escape to New York.
But the Mavericks, with spaces to fill on their roster, are still hoping to fill one of them with guard Delonte West.
Despite a finger injury that forced him to miss one-third of the 66-game post-lockout schedule and that bizarre delivering of a “wet willie” to Utah’s Gordon Hayward back in April, West was a far more solid addition to the Dallas lineup last season than, say, Lamar Odom and could help while Darren Collison and rookie Jared Cunningham learn the offense.
“We’ve got 15 spots and 13 players are under contract,’’ general manager Donnie Nelson told fishbowlradionetwork.com on Monday. “We’ve got a little work to do yet, hopefully Delonte will slide into one of those spots.
“If that’s the case that’ll be great.’’
And if that’s not the case?
“There’s also an argument for keeping that last roster spot open, because sometimes you get lucky towards the end of the summer,’’ Nelson said. “That’s probably how we’ll play it up, unless something really good presents itself.
“We’re still in negotiations with his agent and we’re hopeful that we can work something out,’’ Nelson said. “Obviously he’s got options and he’s got to sort through those.
“Some of those are timing issues there. We’ve just got to continue to negotiate and talk and see if there’s a fit there.’’ (more…)
SAN ANTONIO – In his 11 seasons with the Spurs and more than a decade as one of the preeminent international players, Tony Parker has traveled the world and taken in the sights. In short, there’s not much that he hasn’t seen.
So when the Jazz take to the floor tonight for Game 2 with a new plan to try to slow down Parker, who scored 28 points and dished eight assists in the series opened, the San Antonio point guard will probably shrug.
“My answer’s still going to be the same,” Parker said. “I’m going to stay in the attack mode.
“If they want to take me out of the game, I have to make sure I get Timmy (Duncan) and Manu (Ginobili) involved. That’s why we have a deep team. It’s not only on me.”
There has been speculation in some corners of the Utah media that the Jazz might try to guard Parker with 6-foot-9 Gordon Hayward, but there has been no indication of that from Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. Likely the Jazz will do more to run double-teams and traps at Parker and try to clog the lane to cut off his dashes through the paint.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – There’s a line between the lottery and that last spot in the playoff pecking order.
Yeah, it’s no secret. It’s always out there, lurking in the shadows this time of year.
And it’s a tightrope some team ends up straddling every season. Current players fight tooth and nail to do whatever it takes to gain entry to the NBA’s postseason party while the folks in charge of the long-range vision for the franchise weigh a potential short playoff stint against the benefits of adding another young player via the Draft.
The Utah Jazz walked that tightrope the past two seasons, watching the end of an era change the fortunes of a loyal fan base. It’s the sort of transition, from playoff-regular to lottery team, that can scare the daylights out of some fans.
Just ask the Pacers, a playoff team (as the No. 8 seed) last season and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs this season. They are still trying to lure their fans back after a half-decade in lottery limbo after the Malice at the Palace.
The Jazz were able to weather the departures of both Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams, in that order, without falling completely off the face of basketball planet. Locking up that eighth and final spot in the West last night with the win over the Suns is validation for the players wearing the uniform now that their work hasn’t been done in vain. (more…)
Let’s be clear: Only the Jazz can clinch tonight. A victory at Energy Solutions Arena would leave Utah at 35-30 and Phoenix at 33-32, each with one game left.
But if Phoenix wins — the way it has won the past seven meetings in this series — the teams would be tied at 34-31. The Suns hold the tiebreaker already, thanks to their 2-0 mark head-to-head, with victories on March 14 and April 4.
The Suns are 14-18 on the road, though they have won four in a row in Salt Lake City. Utah is 23-8 at home, winning the past four. But the last time the Jazz beat Phoenix anywhere, Jerry Sloan was their coach and his starting five was Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur. It’s been 25 months.
“We got to go into Utah – tough environment, tough atmosphere, tough team – and we got to win,” Suns guard Shannon Brown told reporters.
Said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin: “You control your own destiny. You’re not looking to anybody else to back into it. It’s all on us to do what we need to do.”