The Jazz's first round series with the Phoenix Suns has now shifted to the scene of the crime, where Kevin Johnson's last-second jumper ended their season a year ago - in the Salt Palace.
Although the Jazz had the home court advantage in last year's playoffs, it did them no good. The Suns won the final game of a five-game series.This year, the Jazz continued to thrive at home, tying with Portland for the best home record in the NBA (36-5). However, one "home" loss the Jazz suffered was actually in Japan, on a neutral court, where they met the Suns.
Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan is taking little comfort in being back on the ranch. "There is no home court advantage in games like this," said Sloan.
The teams played Game 3 of their best-of-five series Tuesday night at the Salt Palace.
Last week, the teams played to a standoff in Phoenix, with Utah winning the opener and the Suns coming back to win on Saturday. Now they play two games in the Salt Palace, where a pair of victories for either team would wrap up the series.
"We're going into a very tough stage," said Sloan. "We've played two games now and both teams pretty well know what to expect. It's just going to be a flat-out tough game."
It could be particularly tough for the Jazz if the Suns finally start getting their standard contribution from All-Star guard Kevin Johnson. In two games, Johnson has scored only 24 points and made just six of 22 shots. It is unlikely the series will go much longer without Johnson returning to his regular-season form, in which he averaged 22 points a night.
"He's still been playing pretty well," said Sloan. "He just hasn't taken as many shots. The thing we've got to do is stop their penetration. (Andrew) Lang hurt us the other night because they were able to penterate."
Added Jazz guard Jeff Malone, "I think John (Stockton) has done a good job on him. We just need to worry about how we play. If he (Johnson) has a great game and we play the way we've been playing, we'll still beat them."
It has been a curious two games for the Suns. Though they managed a split, they shot only 41 percent for the first two games - more than eight percent below their season average.
Meanwhile, the Jazz are shooting a sensational .577 in the two playoff games - almost nine percentage points above their season average.
Both teams appear ready to play. The Suns' Dan Majerle and Utah's Jeff Malone both missed Friday practices but played in Saturday's game. Malone said on Monday that he plans to start against the Suns again.
Sloan put the team through a solid practice on Monday, following a brief film session. The team spent most of the time scrimmaging.
Although the Jazz got an unexpected split in Phoenix, they say they aren't anxious to return to the Valley of the Sun (Utah is now 2-5 lifetime in playoff games at Phoenix). The only way that will happen is if they split their two games this week in Salt Lake.
"If we're gonna do it," said Malone, "we've got to step up and do it now."