It’s yours now, kid.
Let’s recap the 2010-2011 Jazz season to date in seven broad strokes:
- Games 1-6: “Wake Me Up When It’s February.” The Jazz open the season with back-to-back blowout losses, then rally back to .500 with a double overtime victory over the Clippers in Salt Lake on November 6. Record through six games: 3-3.
- Games 7-20: “We’ll Spot You 20 And Win Anyway.” Beginning with an improbable comeback on the road against Miami in which Paul Millsap scored 11 points in the final 28 seconds of regulation, Utah rattled off six straight road wins. More improbably, the Jazz made a habit of going into halftime of those games down double digits before staging furious second half rallies. Should have been a warning sign, but rabid Jazz fans were more inclined to view this trend as proof of Utah’s invincibility and potential championship destiny. (We are a fragile breed.) Record through 20 games: 15-5.
- Games 21-40: “We’re Going To Ignore That Red Light On the Dash.” Utah went 12-8 over this twenty game stretch, but of those twelve wins, just one came against a +.500 team (Orlando). The losses, meanwhile, were troubling. They were either not close (a 23 point loss to Atlanta … at home); to Western rivals like Dallas (twice) and Portland (twice); or both (a 29 point loss to New Orleans). But Utah was still 27-13 through 40 games and atop the Northwest Division, so what’s there to worry about, right? Right?
Let’s throw in a Mark Eaton interlude, just to heighten the sense of imminent doom:
Me sense imminent doom.
- Games 41-46: “Imminent Doom.” Six straight losses to the likes of Washington and New Jersey as well as San Antonio and the Lakers. Mark Eaton’s dire prophecy comes true. And his short shorts will haunt my dreams tonight. Record through 46 games: 27-19.
- Games 47-53: “Pain, Suffering and a Glimmer of Hope?” Deron Williams, Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko and Millsap all sustain injuries, but the Jazz go 4-3 over this stretch and notch its first road win in over a month at Denver, of all places. With a 31-22 record through 53 games, dare we dream that the season is turning for the better? Does this picture appear next to the dictionary entry for “poetry in motion”?
- Game 54: “The End Of An Era.” Also, what Bill Simmons calls, sardonically, the “most dramatic game of the year.” Carlos Boozer returns to Utah; Michelle Money may or may not be in attendance; Kyle Korver and Gordon Hayward check into the game at the same time; Jerry Sloan and Williams go at it at halftime; and the Jazz commit some key turnovers down the stretch to lose 91-86. After the game, Sloan takes an unusually long time coming out of the locker room for his postgame comments. Less than 18 hours later, the longest tenured coach in professional sports and the final link to Utah’s Stockton-Malone era resigns. Record through 54 games: 31-23.
We now present a brief “Bachelor” interlude for Katie Stratman, The Monday Night Pizza Blog, and any other female readers who may have actually made it this far.
I get black eyes the way Carlos Boozer gets broken hands: No one knows how they happen.
- Games 55-57: “The Tyrone Corbin Era Begins” (alternate title: “The Future Is A Scary Place”). Utah loses three straight games — twice to Phoenix, and once, at home, to lowly Golden State. Yellow Thunder calls me at one a.m. Eastern to gloat about it and ends up singing a slurred version of “The Freshman” by The Verve Pipe before breaking down in tears. Record through 57 games: 31-26.
There are some hard truths to face about this year’s Jazz squad, but I’m going to muster up the fortitude to face them:
- It is not that good. Utah lost 35 ppg when Boozer, Korver and Wesley Matthews all left town in the offseason. Ronnie Brewer and Eric Maynor aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts, but they’re two quality role players who sure would be nice to have back right now (especially Brewer for his D). The only real gain Utah has made to offset this exodus of talent is Al Jefferson, and — 57 games in to the Al Jefferson Era (AJE for short) — I ain’t that impressed. He doesn’t complement Williams, he’s a defensive eyesore, and I think he’s already hit his ceiling. He’s also not going anywhere until at least 2014. Almost enough to make you miss Carlos Boozer. (I did not write that sentence.)
- It might not make the playoffs. Utah’s currently tied with Memphis for eighth in the East but holds the tiebreak. That said, Utah has lost four straight while Memphis has won four straight. And the other teams in the hunt for the last spot out West — Phoenix, Golden State and Houston — are all playing much better basketball than the Jazz (especially when they play the Jazz: those three teams are 7-2 against Utah this year).
- Deron Williams may not be ready for this. Fairly or not, Williams has been painted as the one who kicked Sloan out of town. (As Simmons put it, “He’s still covered in Jerry Sloan’s blood.”) Williams has said most of the right things since Sloan left, but this is the statement that concerns us most: “I don’t like being in the spotlight. It puts a lot of tension on me and I don’t like it.” Uh, Deron, whether you like it or not, the spotlight is squarely on you now. Salt Lake City is usually a nice place to stay out of the spotlight, but the past ten days were among the craziest in Jazz history. A legend left town, and you’re the future of the franchise. So play hard, get behind Corbin, reassure the fans you can steer this ship and then please don’t stab us in the back in 2012. Like I said before, we’re a fragile group. Some of us still have VHS tapes of the ’98 Finals and pull them out when we can’t sleep at night. This is who you inherited when you put on a Jazz uniform. Sorry.
So, to recap the recap:
A couple other quick observations:
- The Bulls are good. And Derrick Rose is very good. Scott Guldin has reason to be optimistic about his squad. If it can get Orlando in the second round and let Boston and Miami beat each other up, Chicago could steal the East. (The Bulls lost their first three games against Orlando, Boston and Miami but have won the three since.)
- I stand by my Finals prediction — sort of. I predicted L.A. and Boston would meet again in the Finals, and I still think that’ll happen — for all their problems not named Ron Artest, the Lakers can still take the Mavs or Spurs in seven — but I’d put my money on Boston at this point. The Lakers have perfected the art of not caring through most of the regular season but still looking pretty good while they do it. Boston, meanwhile, is playing like it knows this is its last chance. Plus, for the first time in a long time, the competition among the East’s elite is actually stiffer than it is out West. Boston, Miami and Orlando all genuinely hate each other. It’s fun to watch — like we’re in the 80s again.
- I too would like to try some Unbreakable. Because I’m afraid if Ron Artest asked me and I turned him down that he would snap my neck like a twig. Yes, Ron — it smells great! Please may I have some more!