So, what is the mood of the rejuvenated, monkey's-off-their-back Utah Jazz now that they're headed into round two of the NBA playoffs? Are they relaxed? Loose? Satisfied? Feeling pretty good about themselves? Wondering if they could buy you lunch?
They are not. Maybe the Jazz did crush the Phoenix Suns three games to one; maybe they did make Kevin Johnson look like a CBA refugee; maybe they did guarantee their owner, Larry Miller, another half-million dollars, at least, in postseason revenue by making it into the second round. Maybe that means May is Miller Time. But for him, not them. As Saturday's practice indicated, this is still not a team in a celebratory mood.Like they've been all season long, the Jazz were in a businesslike manner Saturday at Westminster College in their first practice after clinching the first-round series over Phoenix Thursday night in the Salt Palace. Coach Jerry Sloan gave his team Friday off, time enough to sharpen their elbows for the second round, and maybe eat a little raw meat.
"I've never had a problem with these guys competing," Sloan said after practice. "Looking back at the last two years (when the Jazz were eliminated in the first round) hasn't ever been a problem because these guys have always played hard, they've always competed."
This is the team that three years ago won the Midwest Division title and refused to pop the champagne the public relations department had ordered for the locker room. Now, with their first tangible triumph since that '89 title, they obviously haven't changed a bit. Dealing with prosperity might be difficult for some people; but not for them.
Sloan did yell at his players about three-fourths of the way through practice, saying, "If you're going to be satisfied with just winning this (first-round) series, then let's not even play." But Sloan yelling at practice is nothing new. As sober as the Jazz tend to be, their coach can make even them look like they're wearing lampshades.
"I expected a tough practice today," said Sloan. "They had a day off, and they don't know yet who we're playing or where we're going."
Practice ended by noon, giving the players enough time to relocate to the televisions of their choice to see if Seattle could upset Portland and give the Jazz a homecourt advantage against the Sonics in the second round. It also gave them time to watch the Kentucky Derby to see if a horse named Happy Jazz Band could win the run for the roses.
Alas, neither telecast smiled on the Utah Jazz.
Portland caught Seattle early in the second quarter and cruised after that to its 119-107 victory.
And in the Derby, Happy Jazz Band, a 99-to-1 shot, finished 11th, well behind the winner, Strike the Gold.
It means the Jazz will open the second round of the playoffs on the road Tuesday with a decided homecourt disadvantage in Portland, and that they won't be getting any peripheral publicity from a Kentucky Derby winning horse with a similar nickname, either.
Then again, the Jazz aren't a happy band yet, at least not that you'd notice. They're on schedule, perhaps, and rid of the Suns, but, still, as rookie Andy Toolson said, "nobody's messin' around."
Toolson, a first year guard out of Brigham Young, is one of the few squadmembers not associated with the past. "From what I understand, the No. 1 goal this year was to get past the first round," Toolson said after Saturday's practice. "Now, the goal is to get past the second round. I haven't seen any change at all. If anybody's lost focus, I haven't seen it. Everyone's intense. This is the way I thought the playoffs would be, the way the playoffs ought to be."
As practice ended yesterday, the Jazz players quickly took their game faces into the locker room, not looking for publicity or the chance to deliver Academy Award-type speeches. There were no bold comments, no predictions. John Stockton, Karl Malone, Mark Eaton, Thurl Bailey, they were outta there, looking like poker players. If you're worried that this team has started celebrating too early, relax. They're not.