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Utah Jazz hope youthful exuberance can overcome experience

Published: Friday, Sept. 4 2015 3:08 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Experience, it seems, enhances expectations.

It certainly works that way when it comes to the world of sports, and the NBA playoffs are definitely no exception to the rule.

Take the San Antonio Spurs, for example. The Western Conference's top-seeded team and Utah's first-round opponent in this year's playoffs possesses far, far more postseason experience than their Jazz counterparts.

Heck, just between the Spurs' twosome of big man Tim Duncan and point guard Tony Parker, they've played a combined 314 postseason games — more than the entire Jazz roster's total of 287 playoff games.

Then throw in the third member of the San Antonio's venerable "Big Three," Manu Ginobili, and his 122 playoff appearances, and you begin to see how the Spurs might have a "been there, done that" attitude when it comes to their best-of-seven matchup with the Jazz, which begins Sunday in Texas.

Of course, that attitude may have caught up with the Spurs a year ago, where they were also the No. 1 seed and racked up the league's best regular-season record (61-21), only to get bounced out of the playoffs by the upstart eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in a shocking first-round upset.

While Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are key components to the Spurs' success and have their sights set on winning the fifth NBA championship in franchise history — indeed, experience does enhance expectations, doesn't it? — the Jazz are relative novices when it comes to the postseason party.

Utah's two most playoff-seasoned veterans, Josh Howard and Raja Bell, have a combined 130 postseason games. And Paul Millsap (44 games), Devin Harris (38) and Jamaal Tinsley (37) have fewer playoff appearances between them than Duncan, Parker or Ginobili do individually.

What's more, Utah's starting center/leading scorer and rebounder, Al Jefferson, has been to the playoffs just once in his NBA career — a seven-game series that the Boston Celtics lost in his rookie season. And seven other members of the Jazz lineup, including starters Gordon Hayward and DeMarre Carroll and key reserves Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter, will be sticking their toes into the postseason pool for the first time.

"It's gonna be different," said Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin, who played in 81 postseason games during his days as a player but will also be making his playoff debut as a coach. "It's gonna be a whole 'nother level from anything you've experienced in your basketball career up to this point.

"It's going to be fun for them to learn," he said of his young, relatively inexperienced team, "but it's going to be an intense situation. ... It should be a great time for them."

While Corbin might normally be inclined to lean on playoff veterans like Howard and Bell in this first-round series, both players missed more than a month of the season with knee injuries that required surgery.

Both of them returned to the court this week for the first time since mid-March, and Howard had a solid 12-point, six-rebound performance in Thursday's regular-season finale against Portland.

But with the strong way his team played down the stretch without the services of Howard and Bell, Corbin must be cautious not to disrupt the team's winning chemistry.

"Experience is always good," the Jazz coach said, "but we've been playing a certain way and we want to make sure that whatever we do we feel good about the contributions we have on the floor and what we're going to get from those contributions.

"We're counting on everybody on this roster. ... It's going to be a new experience for some of the guys. We've got so many guys that don't have playoff experience, so it's going to be a new experience and we're all going to have to make sure that we're on the same page and we get relaxed as soon as we can so we can just play basketball.

"We'll look at what gives us the best chance," Corbin said regarding the possibility of perhaps putting the more-experienced Howard back into the starting lineup ahead of Carroll. "DeMarre has played very well with that first group, and we're going to need everybody. So we need everybody to stay focused and just be ready to play when they step on the floor."

Howard fully supports whatever Coach Corbin decides to do with the Jazz lineup.

"I know he's satisfied with what he has going right now," Howard said, "so if he feels it's best for me to come off the bench, hey, I'm going to embellish that role and go out there and play.

"DeMarre has carried himself well stepping in for me after I had to go down with a little surgery. He just went out there and hustled, and that's what I like about him. He's a hustle guy no matter if his shot's falling or not, he's going to continue to play that 'D.'

"It's up to Coach," Howard continued. "I'd love to start, but if not, coming off the bench, I know I can help my team doing that like I did at the start of the year."

With the team's youth and postseason inexperience, folks might expect some of those young Jazz players to have the dreaded wide-eyed, "deer-in-the-headlights" look as they approach their first playoff experience.

But Howard and Bell certainly don't see that in their teammates. "I don't think our guys are getting too uptight," Howard said. "I haven't seen no inklings of nervousness yet. I see a lot of excitement. I know for that first game and the guys who haven't been to the playoffs and don't know what to expect, it's going to be overwhelming, regardless if you're a rookie or myself, like a nine-year veteran.

"This is the first year I've been back in the playoffs in two seasons, so I'm going to have a little bit of butterflies but that comes with the territory. You've just got to figure out a way to put that behind you and just go out there and get wins. Those young guys might be a little bit nervous, but we've got to hurry up and get those guys over that and get those wins."

"I've been around these guys, and they don't seem the type (to be nervous)," Bell said. "Gordon, I haven't seen that out of him, and Alec Burks doesn't really seem to have it, either. "So we might be that team that's just young enough to not be like a deer in the headlights. We might not even really understand what's going on. I'm not sure yet; I just haven't seen that in their makeup. "We've had a lot of big games as of late, games that were make-or-break, do-or-die, win-or-go-home type of games," Bell said, "and they've stepped up every night."

Yes, experience does enhance expectations. But sometimes, perhaps, so does youthful exuberance.

email: rhollis@desnews.com

Playoff experience

How the Utah Jazz and key San Antonio Spurs' players stack up in terms of postseason experience, with their number of years in the playoffs, games played, and their average minutes, points, rebounds and assists per game:

Utah Jazz

Player Yrs Games MPG PPG RPG APG

Josh Howard 6 62 33.1 15.5 7.2 1.6

Raja Bell 6 68 25.9 8.0 2.6 1.5

Paul Millsap 4 44 21.6 9.5 5.7 1.0

Jamaal Tinsley 5 37 25.6 7.5 2.8 5.3

Devin Harris 3 38 21.0 8.3 1.6 2.4

C.J. Miles 4 23 18.4 7.6 1.6 1.3

Earl Watson 2 8 17.0 4.8 2.4 2.8 Al Jefferson 1 7 19.4 6.1 6.4 0.3

No experience: Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, DeMarre Carroll, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Jeremy Evans, Blake Ahearn

San Antonio Spurs

Player Yrs Games MPG PPG RPG APG

Tim Duncan 13 176 39.5 22.7 12.4 3.4

Tony Parker 10 138 36.3 18.8 3.1 4.9

Manu Ginobili 8 122 31.4 16.5 4.6 3.8 Stephen Jackson 5 58 36.5 15.3 4.1 2.9

Boris Diaw 4 39 34.9 13.9 5.5 4.4

Matt Bonner 5 32 13.4 3.6 2.3 0.3

DeJuan Blair 2 14 10.1 3.9 3.7 0.5

Patty Mills 2 5 3.4 1.2 0.2 0.6

Gary Neal 1 6 18.3 7.7 3.0 0.8

Tiago Splitter 1 3 16.7 6.7 4.7 0.3

Danny Green 1 4 1.8 1.3 0.3 0.5

No experience: James Anderson, Kawhi Leonard

Coaches

Regular season W L Pct. Postseason W L Pct.

Greg Popovich 797 383 .675 3 NBA titles 108 73 .597

Tyrone Corbin 36 30 .545 — 0 0 —

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