Having shown they can win a playoff game in Phoenix for the second straight year, the Jazz are back at home for two games. Which may not be great news. Because as comfortable as things are at home, they aren't necessarily that safe, says a Jazz player and his coach.
"There's no question the home court is over-rated, especially in the playoffs," said Jazz center Mark Eaton. "I think as an opposing team you don't put as much credence in the home court during the regular season as in the playoffs, because the playoffs have so much more emotion and intensity. It's a step up, so I think that negates a lot of the home court advantage."Utah and Phoenix are tied 1-1, with games coming Tuesday (8:30 p.m.) and Thursday in the Salt Palace.
Though the Jazz had won only four of their last 34 regular season games in Phoenix, they beat the Suns by 39 points at Veteran's Memorial Coliseum on Thursday.
Certainly home hasn't been all that comfortable so far in this year's playoffs. On Thursday, the Lakers had to make a last-second shot at the Forum to eke out a win over Houston. Atlanta has beaten Detroit once in the Motor City and Philadelphia has beaten Milwaukee twice on the road. Golden State tied the series with San Antonio on Saturday, beating the Spurs at HemisFair Arena and Indiana won at Boston on Sunday.
"It's nice to be at home, but the home court advantage is something that hasn't really held true when you look at the series (between the Jazz and Suns)," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan. "You'd rather play at home if you can, but you know you have to play well."
The Jazz have fared better on the road during the playoffs than the regular season. Last year Utah won one of two games played in Arizona.
However players and coaches may feel, the record indicates home teams still hold a huge advantage in the playoffs. In the 1984 second-round playoff with the Suns, for example, the Jazz lost all three games in Phoenix.
Last year across the league, visitors won only nine of 32 games in first round (best-of-five) series. Winning was even tougher in the first two games of each series, with only one of 16 contests being won by the visitor.
Since the NBA went to its current playoff system in 1984, visiting teams have won 76 of 225 first-round games (.338), going into this year's games.
Although the Jazz failed to win their second game on Saturday, most players considered the two-game split acceptable.
"You'd always like to get the second one, but we have to go home happy with a split," said Eaton. "Now we have the opportunity to play in front of our crowd."
"We won a game down here and now we go back to Utah," said Karl Malone. "We came (to Arizona) to win two games. That's not going to happen now, so we just have to go out and do our jobs and see what happens."
It is unlikely anyone will accuse Malone of not doing his job. In two playoff games, the Mailman has gone 20-34 for 49 points and 24 rebounds. Teammate Jeff Malone is 17-31 and has scored 44 points.
Despite evening the series, the Suns continue to shoot poorly. Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons will likely need to get his team to improve on its shooting - only 41 percent over two games - if it is to win in the Salt Palace.