Utah Jazz: Rematch with Miami filled with intrigue, plenty of subplots
Seeing as the Jazz's size is one of their distinct advantages in this game, Utah only hopes he remembers this one for a different reason.
Glitz vs. Grit
South Beach partied it up after two stars — Chris Bosh and his sidekick, James — brought their talents to Miami, touched their wonder rings with Dwyane Wade's and formed a superpower squad.
"I think," Sloan said, "everybody thought they were going to win 82 games."
Without the fanfare or fancy lightshow, Utah also vastly changed its roster by bringing in Jefferson and Raja Bell, among others.
In a weird parallel, the teams have mirrored each other. They both added new pieces to their puzzles. They both have had struggles and early growing-together pains. And they're both playing well now.
Utah (16-6) got blown out in its first two appearances of the season and started 2-3 before breaking out with winning streaks of five and seven games long.
Miami (14-8) lost four of its next nine after blowing its big lead to Utah, but the Heat have, well, heated up to win five consecutive games coming into this one. The streak, of course, includes Miami's inspired 118-90 thumping of James' estranged family in Cleveland.
Both teams are revamped and re-energized after early difficulties.
"D-Wade said it best: If they lost two games in a row, people are going to think it's the end of the world," Williams said. "They struggled a little bit and that's what happened. … They're playing a lot better. It's a different team than we saw early on. They're tough to defend."
Added Jefferson: "I think they have figured it out."
Losing early on, Miles said, might have been a blessing in disguise for Miami.
"It was probably one of the best things that happened to that team," he said, "to have to go through that and learn how each other's going to play and who's going to point fingers."
The Jazz, Miles pointed out, had a different problem that arose after a perfect preseason.
"I think the worst thing that happened to us was going 8-0 in the preseason, to be honest with you," he said. "Because we stepped into those first two games of the season and felt like, 'Oh, it's easy.' "
It wasn't. But the Jazz have progressed, and quicker than many would've imagined.
"We just had to figure it out," Miles said.
Drama (and deception?)
Will James go off for 50 or put together a triple-double — statistical performances he's previously had against Utah — in his latest grudge match payback? And will the Jazz try to double-team this former No. 23 or equally concentrate on Wade and Bosh?
"It's like double-teaming Michael Jordan," Sloan said.
Can the Jazz improve to 9-0 against the Eastern Conference and bring out the broom for a 2-0 sweep of Miami?
Is it possible Utah will sign a D-Leaguer to come in and close out the game?
Will both teams — tied for the NBA's top spot for field-goal defense — hold each other to their opponents' average of 42.9 percent shooting?
And what are the odds Millsap will follow his monumental Miami moment and score 47 points with four consecutive 3-pointers to one-up his remarkable 46 points with three late 3s?
"We could keep me out there as a decoy," Millsap joked.
Sloan just wants to see his team play together. That, he strongly believes, is the Jazz's only chance against a team that still could go 74-8 now that the 82-0 mark is out of the picture.
"We just have to play well as a team, come out … try to defend, just play common-sense basketball," the Hall of Fame coach said. "We can't go out and beat them one-on-one. We have to play and execute our stuff and stay focused on that."
And Jefferson said there's one bit of drama the Jazz would rather not deal with this time around: "We've just got to start out the game better than we did in Miami."
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