For Jeff Hornacek, the playoffs have been less Jazz and more funk.
"It's been tough this year, because I haven't been able to do the things I like to do," Hornacek said. "I'm not helping the team the way I thought I would."Utah's second-leading scorer during the regular season has played unevenly throughout his team's run to its second straight Western Conference crown. Hornacek is averaging 10.9 points per game and is shooting less than 42 percent in the playoffs after scoring 14.2 points per game in the regular season.
Hornacek was slowed through the first three rounds by a strained Achilles' tendon that limited the 35-year-old guard's mobility. Consequently, Utah's 10-day wait between the conference finals and the NBA Finals has been a blessing in disguise.
"I'm ready for this series to start," Hornacek said. He stayed out of practice early in the wait but went full-speed on Saturday. "I've got a lot to prove personally, and this team has a lot to prove also."
The Jazz practiced for a full week without knowing the identity of their Finals opponent. The Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers played Game 7 of their series on Sunday night.
The Jazz are quick to point out Hornacek's contributions since he was acquired from Philadelphia in 1994. Utah has made it to the conference finals or further in four of Hornacek's five seasons with the Jazz.
"He's been far and away the best guy at that two-spot we've had since I came here 13 years ago," Karl Malone said. "When Jeff came here, we immediately got over that hump and started going far into the playoffs, and he's been a main reason for that."
Utah's offense, simple as it may be, depends on a reliable outside threat to take the pressure off Malone inside. So while Hornacek struggled, backups Chris Morris and Shandon Anderson played some of their best basketball of the season in the playoffs.
"The guys have really stepped up and played well," Hornacek said. "We haven't missed a step. One of us has always been scoring."
Morris received a day pass out of coach Jerry Sloan's doghouse for Game 1 of the conference finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, and he responded with a stellar series. Anderson has improved his play in each round and is Utah's fifth-leading scorer in the playoffs.
"Jeff's a really dependable scorer for us usually, so when he's injured or not going good, somebody need to take up the slack," Morris said. "All of us picked it up against the Lakers, and it paid off."In Utah's tight Game 2 against the Lakers, Sloan left Hornacek on the bench in favor of Morris until just three minutes remained in the game. By then, it was obvious that all wasn't right with Hornacek.
The Jazz eventually swept the Lakers. That feat was even more remarkable considering that Hornacek, Utah's second-leading scorer during the regular season, averaged only nine points and two rebounds a game in the series. He had as many assists (seven) as turnovers.
After Game 4 in Los Angeles, Hornacek revealed his tendon injury. He wasn't sure when the problem had started, but the pain had grown in each playoff series.
"I really haven't wanted to bring it up, but it's been hard to push off my legs on shots," said Hornacek, who did manage to score 15 points in Game 4.
After a week of therapy and rest, however, Hornacek is in his best shape since the regular season. He also used the break to attend his sons' Little League games, something he says he can't do as much as he would like.
"It's to the point now where we really want to play somebody," Hornacek said. "You can only scrimmage against each other for so long."