SALT LAKE CITY — Last Thursday's "LeBron James Punishes Cleveland, Part Two" spectacle had more hype, hoopla and clever signage than will be found at tonight's Miami-Utah showdown.
And James' homecoming was undoubtedly a bigger story.
But this Heat-Jazz rematch has enough juicy subplots — from revenge, redemption, really good basketball teams squaring off, to reliving memories of Sundiata Gaines' 3 and Paul Millsap's 46 — that national TV executives should be kicking themselves for not airing the 7 p.m. game at EnergySolutions Arena.
In the immortal, paraphrased words of the guy who'll call the action for FSN-Utah — Jazz TV voice Craig Bolerjack — fans might want to click into their couches' safety belts before tipoff.
The intriguing storylines include:
And not just for the Heat, who are among seven teams to botch a double-digit lead against the Jazz this season. Granted, Miami's meltdown was the biggest and one of the most memorable, seeing as Utah fought back from a 22-point deficit and then beat the Heat, 116-114, in overtime.
"They're riding a win streak right now. They want to keep it going," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "They want to avenge one of their losses when they weren't playing very good."
To say the least.
"I think they've got a little chip on that shoulder coming in," Jazz center Al Jefferson said. "They felt like they let that game slip away."
But that riveting rally and Millsap's career-night — especially the 11-points-in-28.7-seconds part at the end of regulation — only salted the wound James previously received from Utah earlier this calendar year.
Tonight will be the superstar's first visit to the Beehive State since his phenomenal fourth-quarter explosion against Utah last January was spoiled by a kid who'd not long before been hooping it up for the Idaho Stampede.
Gaines' improbable, buzzer-beating 3-pointer gave Utah an unlikely 97-96 victory over Cleveland, put a glimmer of hope in the hearts of D-Leaguers everywhere, became one of the 2009-10 NBA highlights and overshadowed James' 18 fourth-quarter points that helped the Cavaliers erase a 10-point Jazz lead.
And we're not talking about the Heat here, either. Jefferson is saying all the right things now, but he put up a two-point, 1-for-7 stinker of a game in Miami. The new Jazz center struggled so much that Jazz coach Jerry Sloan kept him on the bench for the fourth quarter and overtime.
"We got a victory, that's all that matters to me," Jefferson said. "I was happy with the whole idea that I was able to have a bad game and not play the fourth and overtime … and we still came out with a victory."
Jefferson said his worst game as a Jazzman has been long forgotten — or at least it was.
"I got it out of my head until everybody else keeps bringing it up," he said. "I'm just going to go in (tonight) and just look at it as another game and just do my best and do what I can do."
Wait. Just another game? Really?
"He's going to be aggressive. He's going to try to take it down their throats," Millsap said. "He is still a little upset about that game. You can tell it's on his heart."
Jefferson has progressed in the Jazz system since then, Deron Williams pointed out. But, he added, "I'm sure he remembers. He definitely remembers that game."
Seeing as the Jazz's size is one of their distinct advantages in this game, Utah only hopes he remembers this one for a different reason.
Glitz vs. Grit
South Beach partied it up after two stars — Chris Bosh and his sidekick, James — brought their talents to Miami, touched their wonder rings with Dwyane Wade's and formed a superpower squad.
"I think," Sloan said, "everybody thought they were going to win 82 games."
Without the fanfare or fancy lightshow, Utah also vastly changed its roster by bringing in Jefferson and Raja Bell, among others.
In a weird parallel, the teams have mirrored each other. They both added new pieces to their puzzles. They both have had struggles and early growing-together pains. And they're both playing well now.
Utah (16-6) got blown out in its first two appearances of the season and started 2-3 before breaking out with winning streaks of five and seven games long.
Miami (14-8) lost four of its next nine after blowing its big lead to Utah, but the Heat have, well, heated up to win five consecutive games coming into this one. The streak, of course, includes Miami's inspired 118-90 thumping of James' estranged family in Cleveland.
Both teams are revamped and re-energized after early difficulties.
"D-Wade said it best: If they lost two games in a row, people are going to think it's the end of the world," Williams said. "They struggled a little bit and that's what happened. … They're playing a lot better. It's a different team than we saw early on. They're tough to defend."
Added Jefferson: "I think they have figured it out."
Losing early on, Miles said, might have been a blessing in disguise for Miami.
"It was probably one of the best things that happened to that team," he said, "to have to go through that and learn how each other's going to play and who's going to point fingers."
The Jazz, Miles pointed out, had a different problem that arose after a perfect preseason.
"I think the worst thing that happened to us was going 8-0 in the preseason, to be honest with you," he said. "Because we stepped into those first two games of the season and felt like, 'Oh, it's easy.' "
It wasn't. But the Jazz have progressed, and quicker than many would've imagined.
"We just had to figure it out," Miles said.
Drama (and deception?)
Will James go off for 50 or put together a triple-double — statistical performances he's previously had against Utah — in his latest grudge match payback? And will the Jazz try to double-team this former No. 23 or equally concentrate on Wade and Bosh?
"It's like double-teaming Michael Jordan," Sloan said.
Can the Jazz improve to 9-0 against the Eastern Conference and bring out the broom for a 2-0 sweep of Miami?
Is it possible Utah will sign a D-Leaguer to come in and close out the game?
Will both teams — tied for the NBA's top spot for field-goal defense — hold each other to their opponents' average of 42.9 percent shooting?
And what are the odds Millsap will follow his monumental Miami moment and score 47 points with four consecutive 3-pointers to one-up his remarkable 46 points with three late 3s?
"We could keep me out there as a decoy," Millsap joked.
Sloan just wants to see his team play together. That, he strongly believes, is the Jazz's only chance against a team that still could go 74-8 now that the 82-0 mark is out of the picture.
"We just have to play well as a team, come out … try to defend, just play common-sense basketball," the Hall of Fame coach said. "We can't go out and beat them one-on-one. We have to play and execute our stuff and stay focused on that."
And Jefferson said there's one bit of drama the Jazz would rather not deal with this time around: "We've just got to start out the game better than we did in Miami."
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