SALT LAKE CITY — An electric, perhaps even playoff, atmosphere awaits the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls when Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer return to EnergySolutions Arena tonight.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan is hoping his team doesn't get caught up in the hype and hoopla.
"Our concentration has to be on what we have to do," Sloan said. "We're not trying to beat Boozer — we're trying to beat Chicago. I think that's the most important thing is we got to go and play against Chicago."
Utah will be focused on the Bulls, but it would take a robot to ignore tonight's intriguing storylines.
The Jazz playing against three former teammates makes for one of the most anticipated home games of the season. Obviously, Boozer is at the center of the excitement for tonight's game as fans can't wait to greet one of the most polarizing players in franchise history.
Jazz players said Boozer doesn't deserve the boos that likely await him.
"He's going to get booed, but it's going to sound like Booz so …," said Jazz guard Deron Williams, smiling. "I'm sure there's going to be some mixed reactions. Some people love Booz, some people hate him. He did a lot for this franchise, won a lot of games while he was here. He was a great teammate."
Williams said much of the criticism directed at Boozer was unfair.
"He had some injuries while he was here that definitely caused him to miss some games," he said. "He always wanted to be out there. He always wanted to play, wanted to be out there with his team. A lot of it (criticism) was unfair."
Sloan agreed with Williams, saying he didn't understand why Boozer, who missed almost a third of the games while a member of the Jazz, was vilified for being hurt when others weren't.
"From my standpoint, you can't do anything about the injuries," Sloan said. "I think a lot of people had comments on that one way or the other. All I can do as a coach, if he's healthy, play him, if he's not healthy, don't play him."
Boozer said he expects to hear a mixture of cheers and boos, and was seemingly serving a warning if the greeting is too hostile.
"Little do they know, haters motivate," Boozer said. "So guys like me take that in stride and use that as fuel."
Williams quickly reminded reporters that tonight's game wasn't just about Boozer. Korver and Brewer are returning as well, and they'll likely receive warm greetings from Jazz fans.
"Yes, he's cute," Andrei Kirilenko said of Korver, perhaps trying to sell the last of the Mrs. Korver shirts that are in stock in his wife's boutique, Blossom.
"He's going to get the loudest cheer of the night," Williams said of Korver. "We anticipate that."
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau expressed some of the same concerns that Sloan did about tonight's game. He hopes his players just focus on beating the Jazz and don't worry about what happens outside the court in EnergySolutions Arena.
Thibodeau, Chicago's first-year coach, said the additions of Boozer, Korver and Brewer have been great for the Bulls, who enter tonight's game with the Eastern Conference's third-best record at 34-16.
"They've been great," Thibodeau said. "They're team guys. They play to win. They practice hard. They're good teammates. They're professional. They've been everything I hoped they would be."
The former Jazzmen returning in Bulls uniforms are only one reason why tonight's game is highly anticipated. For the Jazz, they're hoping to build off Monday's second-half rally and win over the Kings.
The Bulls are hoping to get back on track after suffering two straight losses on their four-game Western road trip. They were slaughtered in the paint by Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge on Monday. He scored a career-high 42 points.
Tonight's game also features arguably the two best point guards in the league going head-to-head when Williams faces MVP candidate Derrick Rose. They're obviously two different players, as Rose is one of the league's top scorers while Williams does a better job of getting his teammates involved.9 comments on this story
They also have similarities.
"Both have a great hunger to win," Boozer said. "I'm telling y-all, you guys should be there."
Boozer's thoughts notwithstanding, no one needs any extra encouragement to watch tonight's game.