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Brad Rock: Utah Jazz: It's time to summon vintage Boozer

Published: Friday, May 2 2008 12:10 a.m. MDT

Nothing really seems to faze Carlos Boozer, which is both a curse and a blessing. On one hand, the Jazz All-Star probably should be troubled by his surprising ineffectiveness in this year's playoffs. Yet in interviews he can appear indifferent.
On the other hand, this is a man who — during a run of injuries shortly after coming to the Jazz — was accused of faking, of not wanting to play in Utah, of not being competitive, and what does he do? He makes himself into a two-time All-Star.
Same guy who has been labeled a liar, cheat and a double-talker by Cleveland fans who felt he hoodwinked the Cavs into letting him become a free agent.
The criticism barely drew a rise out of Boozer.
Thus, when discussing his letdown in the playoffs this year, he doesn't appear concerned. Most of his responses have been vague, even glib. Asked Thursday if he feels due for a breakout game, Boozer replied, "Yeah, I think I'm due for one. I think I'm taking good shots. Things obviously weren't going good last game, a blowout game, but nothing you can do about that ... "
One thing seems certain: The Jazz need Boozer to be bodacious. Now. Before this thing really gets out of control.
The Jazz-Rockets series continues tonight with Game 6. If the Jazz win, they move on to play the Lakers in the next round. If they lose, it's back to Houston for a Game 7 on Sunday, and you know how dangerous that would be.
Paging Carlos Boozer. Mr. Carlos Boozer. You have a call on line one.
"Hang in there with us," said Boozer. "Don't be frustrated. We're not frustrated. We're going to come out ready to play."
While his words are reassuring to Jazz fans, his game has been less convincing — at least by his usual standards. Last year, he thrived against the massive Yao Ming on the inside, spinning for score after score. This time, Houston is using a surprisingly problematic Dikembe Mutombo at center. Energetic forward Luis Scola has dutifully hounded Boozer from tipoff to locker room, as has Carl Landry and others.
Consequently, Boozer has no more than 20 points in any game and is averaging just 16, eight below last year's playoffs. His field goal percentage is nine down from last year.
Boozer, though, isn't one to agonize over failings in public. Not that he doesn't care. That much was obvious last week when he went 3-8 on free throws in Game 3, so he shot an extra 100 free throws at practice the next day. Voila! He was 8-8 from the line the next game.
It's just that he's not going to air his concerns on "Oprah" or "Dr. Phil."
Actually, the Jazz have done fairly well without a turbo-charged Boozer. They have traditionally counted on other players to augment his brilliant offensive play. But lately it seems the reverse.
It's true Houston's defense has been impressive. The Rockets have outhustled, outslapped and outshoved the Jazz throughout the second half of the series. Boozer is being contested on every shot.
"They're a good team," said Boozer. "They do a good job of guarding you, and when Deron (Williams) or I have the ball, they do a good job of having weak-side guys in the lane. So if you get by your initial defender, the secondary guy's there waiting on you."
Meanwhile, the Jazz quietly wait for him to get back his groove.
"We don't wait for him, but it's not his fault," said teammate Andrei Kirilenko. "It's really like they're double- and triple-teaming him. We need to help him to take the help away."
Translation: Teammates need to force coverage off Boozer by making their own shots.
Still, great players perform well in big games, regardless of circumstances. So it's time. With momentum in Houston's favor, it's hard to picture the Jazz winning a Game 7.
Yes, they did it last year.
But that was a different Boozer in an entirely different mode.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com

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