SALT LAKE CITY — When their basketball careers come to an end, don't expect Utah Jazz guys to take up gigs as fortune tellers or carnival clairvoyants.
They're good at playing basketball.
They're not so good at predicting how good of a team or how many wins they'll have this season.
Fifty-plus again? Mid-40s? If all goes extremely well, maybe even in the 60s?
Your non-guess is as good as theirs.
"I wouldn't guess at all," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said.
"I don't do any of that. I just play," Jazz shooting guard Raja Bell said. "I think that type of stuff will take care of itself."
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan added that going into a season having expectations of a number of wins or predicting success can "blow a team out of the water." Injuries make the guessing game too hard and unpredictable to play.
Sloan even hedged a bit about his predicted opening-day starting lineup of Deron Williams, Bell, Andrei Kirilenko, Millsap and Al Jefferson because of the unknown factor from unexpected strains, sprains and other pains.
"I'd say that's how we'll go if everybody stays healthy and something doesn't happen," Sloan said. "If it does, somebody else has to step up and get ready to play."
If players stay healthy and work hard or rise to the occasion while filling in for those who don't, Sloan believes wins will pile up regardless of predictions.
"I just go in and hope they play well every day," Sloan said. "I think the most important thing is to try to be consistent every day. Do your job, be consistent."
Like coach, like player.
"We try not to get ahead of ourself," Millsap said. "Every game counts ... every win counts, so the best is to just take it one game at a time."
All the way to at least 80 wins, right?
Millsap only chuckled at that suggestion.
The Jazz are setting their focus on Game 1 against Denver on Wednesday night, not on what's going to happen all the way through Game 82 on April 13, 2011, against the same Nuggets.
"We need to come out and try to set the tone," Millsap said. "Set the tone for the whole division, come out get this win. That first win says it all."
The Jazz aren't putting much stock into what the national pundits are prognosticating, either. Utah is unanimously regarded as a potential playoff team, but many media types aren't sure what to think of Sloan's 23rd squad after it lost Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Wesley Matthews and Kosta Koufos in offseason moves.
As such, the Jazz have been picked by many to finish behind Oklahoma City and even Portland in the Northwest Division and to end up in the middle or lower-tier of the playoff-qualifying teams in the evenly stacked Western Conference. Experts aren't quite sure how the Jazz will jell with Jefferson or how they'll do when Mehmet Okur returns from his Achilles heel rehab.
"Do they have a crystal ball?" Williams asked.
Of course, the All-Star point guard might not buy into their forecasts even if they did.
Like his teammates, Williams doesn't like attaching numbers to his expectations. Those goals, he said, are simply: "To win as many games as possible, get home-court advantage and try to win a championship."
So will the revamped Jazz, coming off an 8-0 preseason and the second-round exit and 53-win season from a year ago, be able to reach that NBA Finals glory?
You'll have to tune in through June.
Williams won't make that guess. But that's definitely his ultimate goal.
"I think it should be everybody's goal if they're playing," Williams said. "They're playing basketball. You don't set out to lose."
Or, for that matter, to make predictions about wins.
Utah at Denver
Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Pepsi Center, Denver
TV: FSN Utah
Radio: 1320 AM, 98.7 FM
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