It's no problem, really. Here the Utah Jazz are, up 2-0 in the Western Conference semifinals, and everything that was supposed to happen has. They have the big players making the big plays. They have the crowd up and running, right where it left off last year in the playoffs. They even have Donny Osmond on the front row, cheering for his own Amazing Technicolor Dream Team.
Surely the Jazz are enjoying the good life. They are prospering and realizing the fruits of their hard work. There's just these two eensie-weensie problems: If the Jazz are so great, why are they two jump shots away from disaster? And why are they insisting they don't feel they were lucky?Because they don't want to admit the naked truth: They probably shouldn't be leading the series at all.
Half way to clinching a berth in the Western Conference Finals, the Jazz are hanging on for dear life. They're crossing their fingers and shaking the dice. They're acting like someone who just totaled the family car and walked away unharmed - no problem, except for the psychological damage.
The Jazz lucky? Naaaaw.
"I hate luck," said Karl Malone. "I think you've got to make your own breaks. I don't like luck at all."
If there is one thing the Jazz have learned in the first two games of this series with the San Antonio Spurs, it's that it isn't going to go smoothly. After winning 109-106 on Thursday, they left the Delta Center in the wee hours of Friday morning, checking their clothing for singe marks.
Clearly, with games coming up in the Alamo Dome Saturday and Sunday, the Jazz know they aren't out of trouble yet. Considering the close calls they had in Utah, their supply of good luck should be expiring . . . just . . . about . . . now. They know that if the Spurs get the same shots at the end of the games in San Antonio, they'll probably make them.
"It's really kind of a good news, bad news situation," said the Jazz's Adam Keefe. "They played well but they came away without getting wins that they needed. But it's really kind of the same situation for us. We won two games but we know we dodged two bullets."
In beating the Spurs in the first two games of this series, the Jazz proved there is indeed something smaller than an electron: the margin between beating the Spurs and losing to them. On Tuesday, they won by a point when Spurs' forward Tim Duncan missed a jumper at the buzzer. Fair enough. But then the same thing happened on Thursday. The Spurs thought they were watching the movie "Groundhog Day." This time, with the score tied, the Spurs' Jaren Jackson missed a jumper at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. The Jazz ended up escaping by hairs on Vinny Del Negro's chinny-chin-chin.
Now it appears the Spurs aren't going to go away easily. They chased the Jazz all through the regular season, then came into the Jazz's house and took over the remote control and the couch, without even being invited. They made themselves comfortable. They stared down a team with two of the 50 greatest players of all time, and what many say is the loudest arena in the NBA. They didn't beat the Jazz, but they surely put a dent in their confidence.
"It's very important to win games. We could just as easily be 0-2. So cautiously optimistic? Yeah. We won two games we were supposed to win," said Keefe. "So I don't think we've accomplished anything yet. We've barely done what we were supposed to do."
"Barely" being the operative word.
The Jazz now have another problem. They play two games in a row at the Alamo Dome. And behind the rhetoric about winning, they were unable to put the Spurs away.
The Spurs left town knowing there isn't anything the Jazz have that they can't handle; knowing if the series comes back to Salt Lake City, stealing a win isn't out of the question.