Utah Jazz: Can the Jazz steal one against the San Antonio Spurs

Published: Sunday, April 29 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Jazz guard Devin Harris, here stealing the ball from Spurs' Tony Parker, and his teammates will try to steal a series from powerful San Antonio. tries to knock the ball away from San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) as the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs play Monday, Feb. 20, 2012 at Energy Solutions arena in Salt Lake City. Spurs won 106-102

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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SAN ANTONIO — Entering the Western Conference's first-round series against San Antonio as heavy underdogs has a familiar feel to it for the Utah Jazz.

It's how they entered the 2011-12 season, too.

Many skeptics were convinced the Jazz would be mediocre at best.

Other observers thought the team that lost 20 of its final 28 games the previous year — and no longer employed Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan or All-Star point guard Deron Williams — would be flat-out bad.

Danger of being relegated to the D-League, if the NBA had that option, bad.

In that respect, this whole irregular season was the Year of the Underdog for the Jazz.

Between their happiness over proving pessimistic pundits wrong by making the playoffs and their desensitization to being overlooked, the Jazz could care less if nobody thinks they'll advance past the Spurs — or even make a series out of it.

"We wasn't even picked to get into the playoffs. I would say we are a big-time underdog," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said. "We wasn't picked to be in the playoffs, (but) we're here. Not picked to win a game, (and) we're going to see what happens."

If anybody knows how to overcome odds, it's the supposedly undersized Millsap. He's made a career out of making believers out of naysayers — from earning three consecutive rebounding titles at Louisiana Tech, to making himself into an All-Star-like player in the world's best league after being picked in the second round.

"When it happens so long, it becomes a habit," Millsap said of playing with a chip on his shoulder for being underappreciated. "So the best thing to do is embrace it. I'm just embracing it."

Millsap and the Jazz would love nothing more than to give a big ole bear hug to the challenge ahead of them today.

Not many will give them a chance in this 11 a.m. tipoff at AT&T Center against Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili & Co., but surprising San Antonio by snatching Game 1 would certainly catch the NBA's attention and put Utah in an unexpectedly good spot.

Don't believe they can do it?

Before penciling in a 4-0 Spurs sweep, consider the makeup up of this Jazz team and what it's overcome to get into this position.

Al Jefferson had a reputation of piling up big numbers for bad teams.

The careers of Jamaal Tinsley and Josh Howard were salvaged from the NBA's scrap pile.

DeMarre Carroll became a starter after being waived midseason by Denver.

New Jersey made it clear before Derrick Favors stepped on any of their courts last season that they wanted to trade him. Some wondered if Gordon Hayward was worthy of a top 10 pick.

Devin Harris endured trade rumors and criticism for being a shell of his 2009 All-Star self and for not running the Jazz offense as well as, say, Earl Watson, let alone John Stockton and Deron Williams.

Raja Bell has been lambasted for being past his prime. C.J. Miles battled consistency demons. Alec Burks wasn't Jimmer. Enes Kanter was questioned as a No. 3 pick. Blake Ahearn wasn't even playing basketball after his minor-league season ended a month ago.

Throw in a shortened training camp, a lack of hands-on offseason tutoring, late-season injuries to four contributors, inconsistency issues due to unfamiliarity and a rough road patch in the middle of the season, contributions from 15 different guys, and the Jazz had to surmount a big pile of problems to exceed expectations.

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