Having fallen quickly behind in their semifinal playoff series with Portland, the Utah Jazz are back home. And though that may not mean they'll win there, it represents about as much advantage as they'll get over the Trail Blazers.
The teams resume their best-of-seven series today at 1:30 p.m. in the Salt Palace. The Blazers swept two games in Portland earlier this week and could wrap it up this weekend by winning Saturday and Sunday games at the Salt Palace.Despite two losses in the City of Roses, the Jazz are - at least outwardly - expressing confidence. After all, they're playing in the Salt Palace, where they've beaten the Blazers 17 of the last 19 times; the place where they won 36 games this season.
Home has been as comfortable to the Jazz and Blazers as anyone in the league. Portland and Utah won more games at home than anyone else in the NBA.
"We have to play well at home and get back in this series," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan.
"Obviously we're good at home, as is Portland," said Jazz guard Delaney Rudd. "That's not to say that we're not good on the road, but at home everyone plays different. It's just the comfort of being at home and saying we've got to protect what's ours."
Protecting property became a dangerous thing for the Blazers on Thursday night. They built a 23-point lead on the Jazz, only to see it evaporate in the fourth quarter. A shot by Terry Porter with 3.6 seconds to go provided the Blazers with a 118-116 win. Utah showed major improvements in their second loss, particularly in their rebounding. They out-rebounded the Blazers 43-28. They also played better against Portland's physical attack. "I thought we were a little more competitive," said Sloan, "but not as much as I'd like."
Said Karl Malone, "We didn't come back just to say, Hey, we fought a good fight. "We came back to win it."
Although the Jazz have had remarkable success in the Salt Palace, especially against the Blazers, they lost their last game there against Portland. On March 15 they met after the Jazz had played eight games in 13 days, and the Blazers won 106-96. In the only other game in Salt Lake this year, Utah won 105-91 at the Salt Palace.
"We've got to play well. They are a good team but they're not a team that can't be beat," continued Rudd. "They have great confidence and any shot is a good shot in their eyes."
While the Jazz don't consider Portland unbeatable, there are plenty of people who think they're very near it.
"I think they're every bit as good as those great Celtics and Lakers teams. They have the whole package, top to bottom," said Detroit assistant coach Brendan Suhr. "I think they have a great half-court game and I see them (winning) in the West, easy."
Said Golden State Coach Don Nelson, "From (players) one to six, there's nobody better. Their next three players are very good. It's just a marvelous team, put together as well as any team has ever been put together."
Asked if the Jazz have to play as well as they can play to beat Portland, Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan said, "Oh yeah."
The Jazz, of course, are doggedly avoiding paying too much attention to press clippings, and making few predictions. About all they will say is they plan to make Portland's trip to Utah a precarious one. "It's going to be wide open," said Karl Malone.
Added backup center Mike Brown, "We're going to go home now and take care of business."
PREGAME NOTES: The Jazz are now 4-4 in alltime playoff games against Portland, 2-0 in the Salt Palace . . . Portland has won seven of the last nine meetings with Utah . . . Before this year, Portland hadn't won three of four against Utah since 1986-87 . . . The Blazers have advanced past the first round in the playoffs for the fifth time in their history . . . Jazz guard John Stockton had his face stepped on Thursday night but was able to go through the Jazz practice on Friday without problems . . . Game 4 of the series will be Sunday at 6 p.m.