Utah Jazz basketball: Time to start the 'real thing' as Jazz open up regular season play

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 30 2012 10:00 p.m. MDT

Utah Jazz center Enes Kanter (0) high fives teammates after beating Portland during NBA action in Salt Lake City Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — It's opening day for the Utah Jazz, which for players and basketball-starved fans must feel like a combination of Christmas morning and Halloween Night for kids.

"It's time to start the real thing," Jazz center Al Jefferson said.

The first gift of the 2012-13 season will be opened up tonight when the Jazz host the Dallas Mavericks at EnergySolutions Arena.

As usual, that first tipoff is accompanied by a buzz of emotions, excitement, energy.

And, yes, expectations.

Ah, expectations.

Without being pessimistic or deceptively optimistic, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey offered a refreshingly honest opinion about his new team's prospects.

Lindsey's first response was not unexpected when asked about his expectations for and from the Jazz in 2012-13:

"Being championship caliber day to day."

Lindsey speaks from experience. Having been part of a championship caliber organization in San Antonio the past five years, Kevin O'Connor's replacement is a firm believer that following a consistent pattern of excellence will lead to positive results.

Translation in wins or playoff rounds?

"I don't know. I'm not Nostradamus here," he said. "I think we have a competitive group."

The GM, whose Spurs swept the Jazz out of the playoffs last spring, elaborated with an insightful revelation of reality.

"Now, will we be in the final four, the final two or be the last team standing? I think all of us know we're many steps from that goal," Lindsey said. "But you can again be championship caliber in how you handle yourself, how you do your job, your effort, your openness."

Winning a championship this season is neither realistic nor expected by the Jazz, who surprised many by even qualifying for the playoffs last year.

But, as Lindsey pointed out, there is a high level of expectation for the organization, from players to staff to the front office, to work toward reaching that elite status on a daily basis.

"If you do the fundamentals right," he said, "the results will take care of themselves."

The Jazz realize they won't win every game and might not be quite ready to contend with the likes of the loaded Heat, Thunder, Lakers and Spurs come playoff time.

Or could they make a mark and be among the best in a stacked Western Conference and a tough Northwest Division?

"I think you try to improve from the year before," starting shooting guard Gordon Hayward said. "Obviously, if we don't get into the playoffs, I don't think it'd be a good year for us. We think we're contenders, so that's what we want to do."

Whether they do or not, the organization won't settle for a lack of effort even if it has a lack of wins.

"The target is the best in the league," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "Right now, you've got to work from where you are, but we feel good about what's on this team. We're going to lay it out there every night and we'll see where it lands."

Last year the Jazz's landing spot was the No. 8 seed and a .545 winning percentage (which would equal 45 wins in a non-lockout year).

Nobody in the organization is willing to associate a number with a season goal — from Jazz CEO Greg Miller to players. But anything short of getting to the postseason and advancing would be considered a disappointment — if for no other reason than because this returning playoff team believes it's made progress.

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