It's playoff time, and Jazz coach Jerry Sloan says it's time to step things up a notch. Time to set picks harder, play the defense tighter. Time to get their game faces on.
"I don't want any of my players to tell me 10 years from now they wish they'd tried a little harder. They'll be pretty disappointed if they do," Sloan said.Sloan put his team through perhaps its most punishing practice session of the year Tuesday at Westminster College, in preparation for Thursday's playoff opener against Phoenix. Even so, it ended abruptly when Sloan saw what he considered a "loss of concentration."
"In the playoffs, you have to be able to concentrate and adjust because you can't go to practice tomorrow and work it out," said Sloan after practice. "By then the season's over."
Although the Jazz coach spent considerable time this year expounding on how good the Suns are, it's obvious he has no plans to go down easily. Tuesday he had players scrambling for offensive rebounds, playing punishing defense and working as hard in practice as they have since the All-Star break, if not since the year began.
"Come on now!" he shouted. "Let's get ready. We're going to war!"
The session included intense scrimmaging and breaks for instructions. Things went well until, after about an hour and 45 minutes, they had three straight turnovers. Sloan abruptly halted the practice. The quick finish was an object lesson in how fast a season can end.
"We had a great practice until that point," said Sloan. "But you've got to be able to concentrate. You've got to be able to pick it up."
Despite a flat finish on the season - losing to Golden State - the Jazz enjoyed a strong April performance overall, winning eight of 12 games. Had they beaten Golden State in the finale, they would have won the division title and had their best April ever. As it was, they tied for their best April with the 1987-88 team.
Despite what Sloan said was a disappointing finish on the Tuesday practice, he was pleased with the effort. He said he saw the urgency a team needs going into the playoffs. "I saw it today, until the end," he said.
He claimed the lack of concentration - which resulted in turnovers - was due to his stopping practice for instructions.
Despite looking tired at the season's end, the Jazz finished up relatively healthy. There are no injuries that will keep players out of the playoff game Thursday.
Sloan said a lack of effort won't be an excuse he will accept in the playoffs. "I've had teammates I played with who said later they wish they'd tried harder," continued Sloan. "I told them that's a pretty weak excuse, 'cause you were a teammate of mine."