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Utah Jazz players, coaches speak on their season of growing up

Utah believes it played to best of its abilities in reaching the postseason

Published: Tuesday, May 8 2012 10:15 p.m. MDT

"Toward the end of the season," Millsap said, "I think we really showed something. We showed a lot of heart, a lot of character and for us to really fight for something and fight to get into the playoffs, I think we made big strides to do it."

Finishing with a 36-30 record and persevering to the playoffs (for the 25th time in 29 years) made the season a success in Millsap's mind.

He isn't alone in that thinking, considering where the Jazz were a year ago, the mix-and-match makeup of an inexperienced and unproven roster, multiple late-season injuries to key players and some wild swings between incredible and inconsistent.

"Under the circumstance of the season, under the circumstances of the roster," Millsap added, "I think we did play to the best of our capabilities, and we can't ask for nothing more."

Then again, it certainly was far from a perfect season, especially considering the locker room was cleaned out after a four-game first-round beatdown by the red-hot Spurs.

Some Jazz shortcomings included a rough start, which included three blowout losses; home defeats to bad Toronto and Sacramento teams; two head-scratching setbacks in New Orleans; a February to forget, including coughing up a 16-point fourth-quarter lead in a Minnesota meltdown; and that tough-to-swallow quadruple-overtime slugfest loss in Atlanta that set the Jazz back for most of a week in March.

"I thought we had the talent and the kind of coaching that we could compete for a playoff spot," said Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor, who refused to call this a rebuilding year. "Did it meet our expectations? Yeah."

Of course, O'Connor also pointed out that things could have gone better, including the brief postseason visit. Utah didn't hold a lead after any of the 16 quarters against the Spurs. Not only that, but the Jazz, the NBA's fourth-highest-scoring team, only averaged 86.3 points, shot 38.2 percent and were outscored by 64 points in the playoffs.

Even so, O'Connor wouldn't trade that experience and the learning that took place in the playoff drive for the Jazz's first-round pick (No. 18) that is headed to Minnesota via the 2010 Al Jefferson trade because Utah made the playoffs.

Neither would Jazz players.

"I think we established a great foundation making the playoffs," said Watson, who missed the last month with a knee injury. "I wish we could have won some games, but that doesn't matter. The last four games doesn't define our season."

For most of the Jazz, you can define the 2011-12 season by the way they defied critics and defeated opponents by hustling, fighting and playing well enough to get in the unexpected position of being able to participate in those four postseason games.

Email: jody@desnews.com

Twitter: DJJazzyJody

Blog: Jazzland.blogs.deseretnews.com

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