Having made professional sports history last weekend and managing a split with the Phoenix Suns besides, it's time to see just how much the Utah Jazz learned on their expedition to the Far East.
Four days and two games in Japan gave the Jazz ample time to learn some new words:- Wakarimasen: This word, meaning "I don't understand," was something they picked up quickly on Friday night when they found themselves losing by 23 points. Not only couldn't they understand what was happening, they were also unable to do much about it.
- Byoki desu: This Japanese phrase is something every American needs to learn while traveling. It means "I feel ill." By the time Friday's game was halfway through the third quarter, "byoki desu" was a fairly operative word among Jazz fans who had spent around $1,500 to get to the game.
- . . . wa doko desu ka: This is the beginning of a question and, translated, means "where is . . . ?" - as in "Where is Jeff Malone's sweet jump shot?" or "Where is the bench scoring?" Both were hard to find on Friday.
The 102-101 win on Saturday changed the Jazz's understanding of Japanese considerably. To wit:
- Arigato: This phrase means "thank you," as in "Thank you, Tom Chambers, for missing an eight-foot jump shot at the buzzer."
- Konnichi-wa: A common Japanese phrase, this means, literally, "good day," which is what the Jazz were having once they learned they would come home with a split.
It's only two games into the season, but one thing seems clear: Karl Malone will be as relentless as always. Friday he scored 33 points and took down 10 rebounds in the losing effort. Saturday it was 29 points and 14 rebounds.
The Jazz's bench strength was another matter. On opening night, Utah got only 13 points off the bench. Saturday the bench effort improved to 26 points. That output was boosted mainly by Darrell Griffith's 10 points.
As Coach Jerry Sloan points out, "The really good teams always seem to get a lot of help from the bench."
As for the effects of having Jeff Malone on the team, that remains unclear. Certainly, his presence kept Phoenix honest in its perimeter defense; and Karl Malone probably didn't find as much wholesale triple-teaming as usual.
But Jeff made only five of 15 shots the first night. That improved to 6-10 the second. Blending in with a new offense and having a new role may take some time before he's in his best form.
Meanwhile, Thurl Bailey appears to be headed for another steady season, scoring 17 points in one game and 15 in another.
Overall, the league's best-shooting team a year ago continues to struggle from the floor. The Jazz shot poorly during the exhibition season and now are shooting about 46 percent. However, this early in the year, there haven't been enough games to know if this will be a serious, or passing, problem.
The Jazz will be off - except for practice - Monday through Wednesday, then meet the Spurs on Thursday in the Salt Palace.
Apparently the NBA's experimental season-opener in Japan was a success. Both games were sold out, and since the teams split, nobody went home grousing about starting the season on the other side of the world.
Another indication of the success was the response of the crowd of 10,000, which gave the teams a loud standing ovation following Saturday's game. Both clubs stood on the court and waved sayonara.
The Japanese fans appeared to be truly interested in the product the NBA had to present. One fan even held a sign that said, "Karl, Show Me Slam," to Jazz star Karl Malone.
Malone obliged a couple of times. However, the sign appeared to be a little contrived; the kid holding the sign was American, not Japanese.