Brad Rock: Utah Jazz fans give warm welcome to the new guys
SALT LAKE CITY –
If Salt Lake does anything well, it's welcoming newcomers — at least if stopping cars and shaking hands is any indication.
How long the honeymoon will last depends how long the losing continues.
Monday, the Jazz fell for the 16th time in 21 games. The new help neither cost them the game nor fashioned an unlikely win. One thing seemed certain after Devin Harris' and Derrick Favors' first game in Salt Lake: The players are welcome; the losing, not so much.
All things considered, it wasn't a terrible home initiation. The Jazz came close in their 107-102 loss to Boston. Sunday, Harris was walking at Gateway when a motorist "actually parked his car in the middle of the road and chased me down."
I was a little freaked out," Harris said.
His introduction at EnergySolutions Arena, was more of the same – the loudest cheer of the pre-game ceremony.
Jazz fans might be accused of being slightly overzealous in their welcome of Harris and rookie Derrick Favors, but who could blame them? The last three weeks have been a carnival ride: 16 losses, two coaching resignations and one All-Star player traded.
What no swine flu outbreak?
Yet to this point, Jazz fans have waited fairly patiently. They may have to wait more.
"I think we're coming," coach Ty Corbin said. "We're getting closer in the games, we just haven't been able to finish them. I think it's gonna turn. Hopefully sooner than later."
However risky, last week's trade seemed to buoy dispirited Jazz fans, who had become weary and wary. Monday, Harris was accorded the loudest ovation of any player. Favors, who didn't start, got a nice ovation when he entered the game late in the first quarter.
The ending ovation will have to wait.
In Harris, the Jazz got an upbeat, savvy guard. His first three games seemed to pleasantly surprise Jazz fans: 50 points, 18 rebounds, 14 assists combined. Transition period, transchmission period. The man looks like he was born with a Jazz playbook under his arm. He lightly credits his blending into the Jazz offense by saying he knew all the plays before he ever came to Utah. Who doesn't? Sloan ran the system for 23 years.
Likewise, Favors – the NBA's youngest player (19) – has turned in a trio of respectable games, making 10 of his first 13 shots, blocking three shots and pulling in nine rebounds.
Favors is famous for having once claimed he watches cartoons to relieve pressure.
"I don't watch cartoons much any more," he said Monday.
Not counting those four months with the Nets.
"He watches tape now," Jazz G.M. Kevin O'Conner said.
The newcomers met with the press after the game-day shoot-around, looking happy and optimistic. Unlike the ever-testy Deron Williams, they also seemed relaxed and open.
"It's a joy to watch," Harris said of the Jazz system, "and a joy to play."
OK, the "joy" part could change quickly.
Being here and winning are different things. Both Williams and Sloan had plenty of wins over the years. Still, the trade made sense. Aside from the fact Williams wouldn't have stayed when he became a free agent, and the $3 million cash, and the two players, and the draft picks, a change just seemed imperative. The schedule had started to resemble a perp walk.
Monday, the Jazz played the Eastern Conference's best team almost evenly throughout. Though the Celtics' lead got to 13 early, the Jazz tied the score at 50 and trailed by just three at the break.
Harris wowed the crowd with a pair of driving double-clutch baskets, one in the first quarter, one in the third, while Favors picked up a loose ball and dunked in the early fourth quarter for an 84-83 Jazz lead.
The crowd exploded on all three shots.
Harris finished with 19 points, Favors with nine.
It wasn't a perfect night. Harris traveled in the final minutes and missed a free throw. Favors made just one of his two free throws. Still, the new-look Jazz seemed to be slowly inching their way forward.
A new direction?
Jazz fans — even patient ones — are counting the minutes.
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