At the time of this writing, Utah remains neck n’ neck with those pesky Phoenix Suns (only five minutes left in their bout against OKC, which they trail by 11) for the eighth and final playoff spot. Tense stuff.
And yet, tonight’s game against Portland carried anything but tension to go along with those crazy fans … in fact, so boring was the game that I began switching over to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a movie I’ve seen nearly a thousand times (Long live Rooney).
The Jazz played impeccably against Portland winning 112-91 and, for once, did so without any drama. Whatsoever.
Sure there were a few brief moments in the first half when the Jazz looked almost too casual on the floor, laughing after botched plays (and free throws – Burks), joking on the bench, etc. But then they flipped a switch and BOOM! 31-point second quarter, leading to a 57-39 halftime – a deficit the Jazz thankfully never relinquished.
So now what?
Well, Phoenix, Denver and Houston all lost tonight (this post is taking forever on account of the OKC/Suns game, which finally ended), thus placing Utah into the coveted eighth position in the western conference. (They’d play the Spurs if the season ended right now … scary.)
But the season doesn’t end until next week, so the Jazz must still take on Orlando (sans Dwight Howard, but still Orlando), Phoenix (the game of games) and Portland before they can pop open the sparkling cider and Oreo cookies.
So I’m not going to waste time tonight going through the different scenarios that might or might not occur in the first round of the NBA Playoffs (best time of year, baby) – I’ll do all of that nonsense tomorrow.
For now, I’m going to kick back and bask in Utah’s irrational success.
These boys played hard this past month, going 6-4 (so far) in the month of April. Not an astounding record, to be sure, as there were quite a few games the Jazz probably shoulda won (thanks again New Orleans, currently sitting at number 102,222,343 in the non-playoff bracket), but Sap and gang continued to push despite their formidable odds. Luckily, that hard work looks to be paying off. It helps to have an easy-arse schedule and a few fortunate opposing team-accidents along the way. But keep in mind, Utah accomplished more this season than any sports writer (myself included), casual fan or psychotic lunatic (the kind that sleep in Jazz sheets, naked, whilst eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches … mmmm, peanut butter …) thought they would.
Tonight Utah played against a broken down Portland team. Trades, injuries and stupid GM moves kept the Trailblazers from reaching their potential this season (I call it Karma on account they stole Wesley from us …), but nonetheless, the Jazz could’ve deterred; taken a break and lost another road game.
But they didn’t. Instead, Corbin’s boys leaped into action early and never relented.
Harris, in particular, continued his stellar play of late – I know I keep saying that line, but how else do you put it? The man’s playing with confidence, poise and pizzazz. He still can’t defend the more athletic guards (and mercifully, Felton sat tonight for Portland), but his offensive production has quickly made him into a viable threat (possibly) heading into the post-season. Tonight he put up 27 points, including 6-of-10 from 3-point land. Wow. He only dished out four assists, but Harris never was known for his passing mentality. At the very least his recent resurgence makes me happy the Jazz brass didn’t ship him off at mid-season.
Gordy contributed mightily, again, with 23 points and did a bang up job on defense; while Burks wiggled out of his recent shooting slump with a powerful 17 point performance that … well, made me extremely giddy.
Our big boys had a hard time down low – Milsap and Jefferson combined for just 17 points – but when your guards perform as well as ours did tonight, who cares?
And that’s the secret right there: the guards. Utah has always carried a reputation as an in-the-paint-only team. They score underneath the basket or they don’t score at all. This season, if anything, might at least reveal a slight changing of the guard. The transition is far from complete, mind you (as the recent near-loss against Dallas would suggest), but I think Utah finally learned to respect, or at least utilize, the 3-point line.
Our 3-point percentage still sucks, but tonight we shot 58-percent from downtown. Wow. I know Portland’s ragged D had a lot to do with that, but the Jazz took shots they’d normally pass up under Coach Sloan’s rule. In fact, I’d go so far to say Harris’ and Gordy’s sudden efficiency for beyond the arc is what’s kept the Jazz alive and breathing: in the last 10 games, Gordy has hit 21-of-40 3-pointers, while Harris has hit 24-of-53 (that’s 53-percent and 45-percent, respectively).
Shooting those long bombs opens up the middle for Jefferson and Milsap, and keeps teams like Dallas on their toes.
Hopefully Corbin and co. are taking notes – if Kevin O and his boys can nab a few more solid outside shooters, next season could be a lot of fun to watch.
But for now, we must continue to focus on this season. In all honesty, the Jazz’s fate now lies in their hands. If they win out, they hit a milestone at least two seasons before they were realistically supposed to. One loss could decide the entire future of this Jazz club … no pressure, though.