Even though the New Orleans Hornets' victory over the Golden State Warriors Sunday afternoon officially put the Utah Jazz into the 2008 NBA Playoffs, no one from the Jazz organization was actually rooting for the Hornets.
"I won't root for anybody. I'll root for the Jazz," said coach Jerry Sloan, who has spent the past couple of weeks trying to dispel thoughts that Utah was a lock to get into the playoffs in the ultra-tight Western Conference race.
Even Deron Williams, good friends with Hornet point guard Chris Paul, said he wasn't rooting for New Orleans Sunday. "No, because they're in the top spot, and we still want the top spot. They have a tough road ahead of them," he said, still hoping against hope that Utah (51-26 with five games left) can somehow surpass the Hornets (54-22 with six games left) for No. 1 in the West.
"It's up to us," Williams said about first qualifying for the playoffs (check) and then the Northwest Division title (next up) and, in his mind anyway, the overall conference title.
Even though the Jazz are now playoff-bound, they have to wait to hang what will be their second straight Northwest Division pennant. Seattle beat Denver on Sunday, meaning the division title may be decided prior to Saturday night when the Nuggets visit EnergySolutions Arena.
"That's never the end-goal," said Kyle Korver, who has been to the playoffs just once in his six-year career, in his second season.
"A division championship is nice, but when you have your goals set right, that's just one of the things that kind of fall in place with it. That's a cool thing. I didn't know that (possible) back to back titles but we're still going to go out there and try to win games, and when everything is done, if you've got a division title, it's great."
Of qualifying for the playoffs Sunday, Korver added, "But we don't want to just make the playoffs, we want to play for a seed."
Jazz veteran Matt Harpring also sees bigger fish in the sea.
"I kind of look at it, right now we have 51 wins. That's a good year by any stretch, but we have a chance to have 55, 56 wins with five games left. Let's make the most of this thing and push it to the playoffs," he said.
"You just take what you get in that," said Sloan about qualifying. He seems glad to still have more to play for.
"That's what basketball should be. I don't see any excitement (in) going to the game and knowing you don't have to win.
"The idea is to obviously try to win the division and try to move up as high as you can. That's what we said in the beginning of the year.
"We've had some good moments and moments where we struggled, I think there was a reason for it most of the time, but I feel really good about this team. They've worked very hard to be able to be in this position, so I think they deserve a lot of credit for that."
SPLAT: C.J. Miles was seated about five feet off the ground on some folded-back bleachers, holding a drink in his lap prior to Sunday morning's practice when point guard Williams fired a basketball to him. Miles put up his hand, holding the drink, and was showered with the liquid. It even cracked up Sloan, and the two players had fun with it.
"I'm good," said Miles, holding a soaked jersey. "I got a little something in my eye, little headache now, but I'm cool. It was an energy drink, called Uptime basically like a Sprite with more caffeine in it. That in your eye don't really mix."
Williams called his pass "kind of a turnover," but said Miles tried to catch the ball with the drink in his had. "You can't try to catch it. It was pretty funny though. Priceless. He was looking and then he turned. He wanted the pass."
Miles disagreed with that. "Usually when somebody's not looking, you don't throw the ball at them. Usually when somebody's sitting in the bleachers, that means they don't want the ball. Somebody needs to tell Deron that."
BREWER MENDING: Ronnie Brewer, who has missed the last three games with a strained right groin muscle, said he would practice at full contact Sunday and see how he reacted. After other workouts last week, he felt pain-free but said the muscle tightened a bit. "Hopefully, I can be 100 percent ready to go when we play New Orleans," he said.
BOOZER MOMENT: Carlos Boozer's biggest memory of his own NCAA championship with Duke in 2001 was how quickly the highlight video was produced. "They customize the video like that day for your team and your highlights of beating the six teams, so that's what I remember: 'Wow, they did it that fast?'" he said. As for the title, "Yeah, I think about it a little bit, but for me, I like to just watch the games (now) and see the new kids and the new stars."
HAND-IN-HAND: The Bobbye and Jerry Sloan Hand-in-Hand Foundation held its second "Mardi Gras in the Mountains" fundraiser Saturday night at La Caille. Jazz personnel, including players, act as celebrity waiters to those who contributed. Harpring said he was on his feet a lot and called it a "workout."Sloan said he didn't do any of the waiting. "No, I didn't. I passed that stage. I pulled rank, I guess you might say. It's a lot of work." He hadn't yet counted up how many people attended or how much was made for the Navajo Santa and Community Nursing Services. "What was encouraging was all our players and people that waited tables and stuff, they seemed to be energized by it and had fun with it and they did a terrific job," Sloan said.
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