OAKLAND, Calif., Forward Matt Harpring predicted a playoff atmosphere for the Jazz's 2007-08 NBA regular-season opener.
He was right, though not necessarily for all the predictable reasons.
A crowd of 19,823 was into it at the start, but faded fast. The atmosphere was electric early on, albeit not for long. And sold-out Oracle Arena quite literally was shaking, though this time because an earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale, its epicenter 40-some miles away near San Jose, Calif. rumbled during a first-quarter break in play.
Much more than all that, it was because the Jazz acted Tuesday night a lot like they did against Golden State last postseason having almost all go their way en route to a 117-96 victory over the Warriors.
By the time they were packing to leave, in fact, the '07 Western Conference finalist Jazz were feeling even better about themselves than just a few short months ago.
"I really feel if you measure where we are right now to where we were last year," co-captain Carlos Boozer said, "we're better defensively, we have better chemistry, we're very strong leadership-wise.
"But we have a long way to go."
Or do they?
Utah which eliminated Golden State 4-1 in their second-round series last May was up 62-51 at the break, and shot 51.1 percent from the field (24-of-47) during an opening half in which it led by as many 15 points.
The Jazz who had few worries in the second half, and even were oblivious to the relatively mild quake got plenty from four of their five starters as they won their fifth straight season opener.
But no one contributed more than Boozer, whose 32-point, 15-rebound double-double prompted starting point guard Deron Williams to blurt "Do I have to answer that?" when asked if the Jazz's power forward was in midseason form.
"I thought we played well for our first game," said Williams, who added 24 points and eight assists while shooting 8-of-15. "We came out a little sluggish, but we were able to stand our ground and keep just playing our game."
Even Jerry Sloan was pleased.
"I thought we played a lot better," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said, "than I had originally anticipated."
Utah also got 18 points on 8-of-14 field shooting and three steals in 28 minutes from Ronnie Brewer, who was filling the starting shooting guard vacated by current Los Angeles Laker Derek Fisher. Starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko in an outing Sloan called "terrific" finished with 10 rebounds, nine points, eight assists, five blocks and one steal. And power forward Paul Millsap added a 16-point, nine-rebound effort in 29 off-the-bench minutes.
Brewer had two especially big plays in the third quarter, one an improbable fallaway jumper from 19 feet making it 80-64 and the other his steal of a Troy Hudson in-bounds pass leading to an uncontested dunk on the other end and put Utah up 86-72.
Two free throws from Boozer and a 3-pointer by Williams early in the fourth put the Jazz up 91-72, and they stayed comfortably ahead throughout.
Though the Warriors frequently were playing their favored flavor of small ball, impacting decision-making on Utah's substitution patterns, much was learned about Sloan's apparent plans for the season.
Millsap was first off the bench after scoreless center Mehmet Okur picked up two quick fouls in the opening quarter, confirming the notion that Sloan will use the versatile forward even more than the 18 minutes per game he averaged as a rookie.
New backup point guard Jason Hart entered in relief of Williams with five minutes and seven seconds to go in the first quarter, and late in the second quarter Hart played with No. 3 point Ronnie Price alongside at shooting guard.
Harpring, who missed all seven of the Jazz's preseason games due to his surgically repaired knee, entered in relief of Kirilenko, just as he did much of last season, this time with about four minutes left in the first quarter.
Also seeing action Tuesday, in part because of how the Warriors were playing, were swingmen Gordan Giricek and C.J. Miles, who logged minutes at both shooting guard and small forward.
Giricek finished for the Jazz, playing the fourth quarter while Brewer watched from the bench.NOTES: After facing Houston in Thursday's home opener, the Jazz host the Warriors in a rematch Saturday. ... Millsap played with a brace on his left knee, bruised during the Jazz's final game of the preseason. ... Each seat as Oracle Arena was covered with a placard with the NBA's advertising theme, "Where amazing happens." Flip side of the card: a mini-poster of Golden State guard Baron Davis' thunderous dunk over Kirilenko from last season's playoffs. The Game 3 dunk also was featured on the Oracle Arena video scoreboard during Golden State's pre-game introductions.
E-mail: [email protected]