All that saved the Utah Jazz from a lousy road record last season was a favorable scheduling twist. No fewer than eight times, they arrived the day before a road game, while their upcoming opponent was playing out of town that night before coming home. The Jazz took advantage by winning five of those eight games, resulting in a healthy chunk of the good side of their 14-27 road record.
This season, the schedule-maker offers more good news to the Jazz. They'll have the rest advantage in seven road games, against San Antonio, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Golden State, Detroit and Miami.At home, the Jazz will face that disadvantage three times - against Charlotte, Atlanta and Miami - but they were 4-0 under those conditions last season.
The NBA tries not to take away any part of the homecourt advantage, but scheduling difficulties are unavoidable. "It's a product of dates," said Matt Winick, the NBA's director of scheduling and game operations. "It happens to everybody, and we don't go out of our way to avoid it."
The league has to schedule 82 games for each team in 171 days - actually, only about 160 playing dates are used and the teams give Winick between 50 and 60 dates when their arenas are available. "If we were like baseball, where we had total availability, it would be a whole lot easier," Winick said. "We're somewhat restricted. You do the best you can with what's available."
Winick, in charge of scheduling for four seasons, remembers watching Eddie Gottlieb work out the NBA schedule on the back of an envelope. The process is a little more complicated now, but the results are the same - making everybody happy is tough, and Winick is greatly relieved to complete the schedule every summer. He fielded inquiries, if not complaints, from every team after the tentative schedule went out and, as usual, there are some unusual schedules.
Consider this March stretch for the Jazz: Friday, home game; Saturday, at San Antonio; Tuesday, at Seattle; Friday, at Houston.
ROOKIE UPDATE: While the Jazz continue their pursuit of 1987 first-round draft choice Jose Ortiz, the latest first-rounder is working out but avoiding playing basketball in Laramie, Wyo.
Center Eric Leckner is doing distance running and trying to lose a few pounds, with every intention of reporting for the Jazz's rookie-free agent camp Aug. 11. Leckner is staying off the basketball court for now, saying the Jazz advised him to save himself for the long NBA season.
Leckner hopes to sign a contract in time for the camp, noting, "I have no worries about what's going to happen; I just want to get ready. I'm looking forward to getting there and seeing where I fit in."
Ortiz, meanwhile, is spending another summer playing in the Puerto Rican Superior League. Jazz president David Checketts and director of player personnel Scott Layden visited him in San Juan this week and will arrange for Ortiz to visit Salt Lake City in hopes of convincing him to change his Miami-only stance about playing in the NBA.
ADD ROOKIES: Portland rookie Mark Bryant, the forward from Seton Hall, was anxious to join the Trail Blazers and became the first '88 first-rounder to sign. "The players who don't come to rookie camp with Portland don't do as well," noted Bryant, after reporting for the Blazers' opening session.
Speaking of Ronnie Murphy . . . the Blazers required him to be in the camp. An '87 first-rounder, Murphy reported out of shape last fall and, following injuries and a suspension, appeared in only 18 games as a rookie.
"I didn't really know what was going on half the time," Murphy told The Oregonian. "They always said I was out of shape. When I worked myself into shape and asked how come I wasn't playing, they always said, `You can't do this, you can't do that.' "
Added Murphy, "I have to win the coaches over. When you win the coaches over, you get the chance to play. Like Kevin Duckworth did. The opportunity came, and he won the coaches over."
AT RANDOM: Not even Larry Miller is this involved with his team: New Portland owner Paul Allen requested videotapes of each rookie-camp session . . . Add Denver owner Sidney Shlenker to the list of those who wanted to sign Tom Chambers, although Shlenker was overruled by his basketball people. "I pushed real hard to go after Chambers - and I lost," he said . . . The open house for the new Miami Arena drew an estimated 15,000 people . . . Tom Gneiting, the former BYU center who was drafted in the sixth round by Seattle in 1987 and played in Europe, attended the Sonics' camp this week . . . After modeling Charlotte's Alexander Julian-designed uniforms with vertical stripes, Kelly Tripucka said, "If things aren't going well after the first 30 or 40 games, we might add a tie."
QUOTABLE: Jerome Lane Quote of the Month No. 4, on slipping past Cleveland (he's from Akron) to Denver on draft day: "I wanted to go to the Cavs real bad. They picked (Randolph) Keys. I couldn't believe that, man."