DENVER — Pay no attention, for the moment, to the coming match-up with the Jazz's perennial nemesis, the Los Angeles Lakers.
Never-Say-Never Jerry Sloan would vehemently disagree on this, but it's true.
From here on, it's frosting.
The Jazz are in a place they surely earned but could never have expected.
Ignoring the odds, as well as their own dilapidated physical condition, going into the playoffs, the Jazz advanced to the Western Conference semifinals with a Friday win over Denver. They didn't just win the series, they took it. It's hard to say what will happen from here, considering their improbable results so far.
Ignore the disconcerting image of Deron Williams wearily leaving the court at the end of Friday's 112-104 win, gripping his left arm and wincing. (It was diagnosed a bruised elbow.)
The Jazz may end up doing less than hoped a few weeks ago — when they rose near the top of the conference standings — but they've already surpassed what they should have.
By all rights, they they should be languishing in their summer villas.
It ought to be vacation time for the Jazz.
Instead, it's on to Round 2.
"Obviously, we were in a tough position with two guys injured," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, "but our guys who played in their place came in and did a terrific job."
There have been better playoff runs and more impressive teams, but no Jazz team has done more in the postseason with less — Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer notwithstanding. That's because they did it without two former All-Stars, Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur.
Here's to hiking without a water bottle and driving with your tank on one-eighth.
Here's to making do with what you have.
Or, as Sloan would say, here's to dancing with the girl who brung you.
The Jazz won their playoff series with the remaining bodies, which, granted, included two great players and a Hall of Fame coach. But it also included a rookie (Wesley Matthews) who doesn't know he's a rookie and a backup power forward (Paul Millsap) who knows he wouldn't be a backup on many other teams. They also got great moments from C.J. Miles and even some good minutes from Kyrylo Fesenko during the series.
For Sloan, it wouldn't have mattered if he had been going to war with a BB gun. He doesn't like excuses, either way. Earlier this week he talked about having "your excuses made before the game is ever played."
Sloan will make his excuses when he retires.
Not that Denver has been a picture of health. It played Game 6 with starting center Nene out with a sprained knee and Kenyon Martin listed as a game-time decision.
If the Jazz needed a refresher course on concentration, they got it in the first half Friday. At one point in the second quarter, they boosted their lead to 15. Five minutes later, it was down to one.
Across the street at The Gateway, people could hear Sloan grinding his teeth.
The Jazz had stopped paying attention. They missed free throws (a high schoolish 17 clangers) and turned the ball over eight times in the second quarter alone. For part of the game, they didn't play a shred of defense. Joey Graham (no relation to Moonlight Graham), who was averaging less than a minute a game in the post-season, got 18 points — in the second quarter.
"We made some mistakes, but I'm really proud of our guys," said Sloan in what, for him, was a rush of sentiment.
So the Jazz hung in, tying at 67 when Millsap rebounded and flipped the ball in — heavy on the English — and drew the foul. He completed another similar shot later in the quarter.
It was quite the show: Step right up, folks, and see Paul Millsap, the Amazing Contortionist.
And then it got serious.
The Jazz started making free throws and Matthews, who ended with 23 points, swatted a shot into the suburbs.11 comments on this story
The Jazz were still alive.
After a disastrous loss to Phoenix at season's end, and a tepid start in the playoffs, and a rash of injuries big and small, they hung around and won...
That in itself deserves at least a pause of satisfaction.