There is a certain symmetry to this week's playoff meeting between the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns. They met a year ago in a punishing first round playoff series, and again the next November on the other side of the world. Now they are back together, old enemies and old friends, drawn together by circumstances and fate.
The Jazz and Suns open their best-of-five series in Veteran's Memorial Stadium, Thursday night in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. They have seen one another enough times to know their children's names. They met five times in last year's playoffs. They played one another in the Jazz's summer league. They played in the exhibition season. They opened the season with two games in Japan."Definitely there is a symmetry," says Jazz assistant coach Gordon Chiesa. "It's like an act of God that we are playing the Phoenix Suns again. It was planned on the planet Saturn, recently. "
He continues, "We go back and play them last year in a monster five-game series. Our bodies still hurt from it. We still feel the aching pain of that last shot by Kevin Johnson. We travel across the world to Japan. We're elated that Tom Chambers misses a 10-footer that went off the front of the rim and we win the second game.
"And now we play those guys once again, in the Valley of the Sun."
Of course. The Valley of the Sun. There the Jazz have won only four of their last 34 regular season games. There they were throttled 131-117 the first week of March.
If poets and philosophers (and writers and assistant coaches) find a symmetry to these two teams meeting again, it has no such effect on Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. To him there is no such thing as fate or symmetry, there's only the game. "That's how it goes," says Sloan when asked about playing the Suns. "This is who we play. This is what happens."
In the course of a year, the teams have merely switched places. Last season the Jazz won 55 regular-season games and had the home court advantage. This year it's just the reverse. "It's all kind of interesting," says Jazz center Mark Eaton.
As good as the home court has been to both Utah and Phoenix - Utah has a 17-10 record in the Salt Palace against the Suns - last year's playoffs didn't necessarily work out that way. The Jazz lost two of three in the Salt Palace and beat the Suns one of two games at Veteran's Memorial Coliseum. "Although the home court is an advantage, it maybe isn't as big a deal as people make it out to be," said Eaton.
With that in mind, the Jazz spent their first day of the post-season watching films. Sloan gave team a day off practice on Monday, with plans to regroup on Tuesday and Wednesday before flying to Phoenix.
Sloan says he has heard the talk that the Jazz can't beat the Suns, but doesn't consider their history in the Valley of the Sun to be relevant to this playoff series. "That's in the past," says Sloan. "You concentrate on the past, you won't be very good today."