SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz are excited for the opportunity to play the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.
That Jazz-Spurs series begins Sunday at AT&T Center (time and TV network to be announced later today).
"It's going to be exciting. It's going to be fun," Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward said about his first playoff experience. "It's going to be a challenge."
That's not to say the No. 8 Jazz will back down from the No. 1 Spurs, who beat them three out of four times this season. Utah's only win over San Antonio came when coach Gregg Popovich gave stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili the night (and one-game trip) off.
"It's cool you get to go in there and have a chance to shock the world," said Hayward, who has some NCAA experience of doing that with his Butler team. "I think we'll be ready for it."
First things, first.
The Jazz host Portland tonight at EnergySolutions Arena in Fan Appreciation Night at 6 p.m.
Coach Tyrone Corbin said he will start his normal first five of Devin Harris, Hayward, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. But don't expect major minutes from any of the Jazz's biggest contributors.
"They probably won't play as many minutes. We just want to make sure we stay in game mode," Corbin said. "It's an opportunity to get some more minutes on the floor for some other guys, but we want to make sure we keep everybody fresh and ready to go."
The Jazz will practice in Utah on Friday and Saturday before traveling to the Alamo City on Saturday afternoon. Game 1 is Sunday, but the NBA hasn't announced when Game 2 will be in San Antonio nor has it released day/time/TV info for Games 3 and 4 in Salt Lake City.
"I think tonight's game you just go out and try to fine tune things and prepare for San Antonio, make sure things are sharp," Hayward said. "Obviously, you're still going into the game trying to win. I don't think any of us like losing, so that's what we're going to try to do is win."
Corbin hopes to get more time for veterans Josh Howard and Raja Bell, who are battling back from knee issues. Howard played for five minutes in Tuesday's win — his first minutes in more than a month. Bell didn't play but could see action tonight.
This will be a merciful ending to a rough season for the Blazers (28-37), who've lost Brandon Roy (early retirement), Greg Oden (waived) and LaMarcus Aldridge (hip injury) over the course of the season.
Portland, led by ex-Jazzman Wesley Matthews, has dropped all three games to Utah this season.
D-League call-up Blake Ahearn is hoping his number will get called tonight after playing in limited amounts since joining the team a coupe of weeks ago.
"With the situation, (I'll) probably be prepared to play a little bit more," Ahearn said. "It will be good, especially here at home."
A victory tonight would push the Jazz (35-30) into the playoffs on a hot streak. Utah has won four straight games and six of eight — a hot streak that helped the team earn its 25th playoff berth in franchise history.
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