Utah Jazz hope youthful exuberance can overcome experience

Published: Friday, April 27 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Experience, it seems, enhances expectations.

It certainly works that way when it comes to the world of sports, and the NBA playoffs are definitely no exception to the rule.

Take the San Antonio Spurs, for example. The Western Conference's top-seeded team and Utah's first-round opponent in this year's playoffs possesses far, far more postseason experience than their Jazz counterparts.

Heck, just between the Spurs' twosome of big man Tim Duncan and point guard Tony Parker, they've played a combined 314 postseason games — more than the entire Jazz roster's total of 287 playoff games.

Then throw in the third member of the San Antonio's venerable "Big Three," Manu Ginobili, and his 122 playoff appearances, and you begin to see how the Spurs might have a "been there, done that" attitude when it comes to their best-of-seven matchup with the Jazz, which begins Sunday in Texas.

Of course, that attitude may have caught up with the Spurs a year ago, where they were also the No. 1 seed and racked up the league's best regular-season record (61-21), only to get bounced out of the playoffs by the upstart eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in a shocking first-round upset.

While Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are key components to the Spurs' success and have their sights set on winning the fifth NBA championship in franchise history — indeed, experience does enhance expectations, doesn't it? — the Jazz are relative novices when it comes to the postseason party.

Utah's two most playoff-seasoned veterans, Josh Howard and Raja Bell, have a combined 130 postseason games. And Paul Millsap (44 games), Devin Harris (38) and Jamaal Tinsley (37) have fewer playoff appearances between them than Duncan, Parker or Ginobili do individually.

What's more, Utah's starting center/leading scorer and rebounder, Al Jefferson, has been to the playoffs just once in his NBA career — a seven-game series that the Boston Celtics lost in his rookie season. And seven other members of the Jazz lineup, including starters Gordon Hayward and DeMarre Carroll and key reserves Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter, will be sticking their toes into the postseason pool for the first time.

"It's gonna be different," said Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin, who played in 81 postseason games during his days as a player but will also be making his playoff debut as a coach. "It's gonna be a whole 'nother level from anything you've experienced in your basketball career up to this point.

"It's going to be fun for them to learn," he said of his young, relatively inexperienced team, "but it's going to be an intense situation. ... It should be a great time for them."

While Corbin might normally be inclined to lean on playoff veterans like Howard and Bell in this first-round series, both players missed more than a month of the season with knee injuries that required surgery.

Both of them returned to the court this week for the first time since mid-March, and Howard had a solid 12-point, six-rebound performance in Thursday's regular-season finale against Portland.

But with the strong way his team played down the stretch without the services of Howard and Bell, Corbin must be cautious not to disrupt the team's winning chemistry.

"Experience is always good," the Jazz coach said, "but we've been playing a certain way and we want to make sure that whatever we do we feel good about the contributions we have on the floor and what we're going to get from those contributions.

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