Keith Johnson, Deseret News
DENVER — The Jazz can be pretty good.
The suggestion is a simple one, not outrageous in any regard or even boastful. Yet some act as if it's a dirty little secret no one wants to openly acknowledge.
Power forward Paul Millsap, for one, wouldn't even admit discussing the notion with his teammates.
But point guard Deron Williams, speaking as the Jazz prepared for tonight's 2009-10 NBA season-opener at Denver, didn't mind.
"Yeah, we do (talk about it). We know. I mean, everybody knows," he said. "You know, we've had the same team for pretty much the last three years. So, we know what we're capable of. We've just got to put it all together."
So just what is it that, if stars align and the rest of their solar system doesn't go wacky, the Jazz ultimately can do?
"We can be good, you know," Williams said. "I think we're one of the best teams in the NBA."
"Man, I think we can be real competitive," shooting guard Ronnie Brewer added. "I mean, if you think about last year, we struggled on the road, we struggled down the stretch, and then you throw in the injury factor — and we still made the playoffs."
Merely advancing to postseason play, however, is a baseline compared to just how far some suspect this season's version of the Jazz can go.
"We didn't lose a lot; we didn't pick up a lot, but everybody is a year stronger, a year more mature, and I think our chemistry is better than what it was last year," Brewer said.
"Right now, even with (injured) C.J. (Miles) and Matt Harpring and Kyle (Korver) out," he added, "I like our chances against any team."
There are caveats, however.
That would include the need, as has been much discussed throughout the preseason, for both much better defense and a much better record than their 15-26 mark on the road last season.
"Those are the two things that cost us last year," Williams said of a 48-34 season.
And then there is that pesky matter of injuries, which had key contributors Williams, Millsap, Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko, and others, in and out of the lineup last season.
"I think we'll be a very good team if we can stay healthy," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said, adding, "and hopefully not too much turmoil."
"But those things happen, you know? Sickness. If you've got a family, you've got to take care of your family. … That comes first, and we know sometimes those things interfere with what we want to do. But that's the way it is."
Overcoming inevitable adversity — such as they did when advancing to the Western Conference finals in 2007 despite children of Boozer and ex-Jazz guard Derek Fisher facing life-threatening medical matters — will be key.
"Certain things we have no control over. Things are going to happen," Millsap said. "We know that. But, it's just how we come back from those things, how we adjust to it."
So then … just how good can they be?
"If you take injuries out of the equation, I mean, as far as to the championship, I'd guess," Millsap said. "I'd like to give us, I mean, our team is really good.
"If you look at the guys that are in our lineup, especially the starting lineup, and then you've got guys coming off the bench that can be starters — I mean, you take that together, and you add chemistry with this team being together for a long period of time, the sky's the limit.
"Who knows where we can be come June?"
It's a question Millsap swears that — Williams' admission notwithstanding — he hasn't broached with others who have to be wondering just that.
"We don't like to get our hopes up too high," Millsap said. "We don't like to toot our own horn, you know? We know what we're capable of doing. It's just a matter of getting out there and doing it."
Jazz on the air
Utah Jazz (0-0)at Denver Nuggets (0-0)
Tonight, 8:30 p.m.
TV: ESPN, FSN
Radio: 1320 AM, 98.7 FM
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