SAN ANTONIO Last year the Jazz faced coach Jeff Van Gundy and the Houston Rockets in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
This year it's again the Houston Rockets and coach Rick Adelman, who has star Tracy McGrady and the rest of his 55-27 club playing not only improved defense but also a more team-oriented offensive game.
"They made tremendous improvement with the defense," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said after Utah lost Wednesday at San Antonio and settled into a 4-5 seed Western Conference series with the Rockets. "Their defense gets after you, and now they've got guys that can really shoot the ball out on the perimeter.
"Rick's teams always rebound, they always defend," Sloan added. "He does a great job getting them ready."
Adelman also has coached Sacramento, Portland and Golden State.
"They stayed after us all night long," Sloan said with regard to Utah's win over Houston earlier this week. "If you're gonna play in the playoffs, (that's something) to build on from their standpoint."
PREP WORK: Since they went into Wednesday night's final game of the regular season not knowing their opponent for this weekend's start of NBA postseason Houston, San Antonio and Phoenix were all possibilities the Jazz and their advance team have been working overtime.
That means long hours in particular preparing scouting reports on the Rockets, Spurs and Suns for not only assistant coaches Tyrone Corbin and Scott Layden, but also video coordinator Jefferson Sweeney.
"They took care of all that," Sloan said.
"We've had that going for some time but just haven't been guaranteed (anything)," added Sloan. "Everybody tries to do their homework and get it taken care of, so we're ready to go whenever and (against) whoever we're gonna play."
Sweeney's task may be low-profile, but it does not go without notice from Sloan.
"He's very busy all the time," the Jazz coach said. "He spends hours and hours and hours watching film, and that's not a real easy thing to do."
MONEY MATTERS: During the 1951 NBA playoffs, players and coaches shared in a postseason pool of $50,000.
The pool is a cool $11 million, which is up from $1.5 million in 1982 and from $10 million last year.
Here, according to the league, is how it's divided:
• $317,263 goes to the team with the NBA's best regular-season record, which this year is Boston.
• $277,604 goes to the team with the best record in each of the league's two conferences.
• The second- through sixth-best records in each conference are awarded accordingly: $223,126 each for second; $166,563 for third; $130,900 for fourth; $109,074 for fifth; $74,394 each for sixth.
• Each team that makes the playoffs gets $164,168.
• Each team that gets out of the first round gets $195,337 each.
• Each of four participants in the two conference finals gets $322,792.
• $1,290,821 goes to the NBA runner-up.
• And the NBA champ gets another $1,948,042.
Each team splits its pool internally, with full shares typically going to each player who spent all season with the club and partial or full shares awarded to players who spent part of the season with the organization and full-time staffers who travel regularly with the team.
IRON MEN: Jazz starting point guard Deron Williams played Wednesday despite a bruised butt, and backup power forward Paul Millsap played despite a jammed toe, meaning both made it through all 82 games this season.
"There are times during the season when you can sit out, but you don't want to. You know you want to continue to play," said Millsap, who also appeared in all 82 as a rookie last season. "That just helps you out in the long run."
Because of his injury, Williams sat out the second half of Wednesday's loss at San Antonio.
Millsap almost did not play in a TNT-televised game against the Los Angeles Lakers last month, but ultimately an ankle sprain was not enough to stop him.
"You're just trying to win," he said, "at all costs."MISC.: Jazz All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer wound up playing in 81 games, with a sprained ankle keeping him out of a Nov. 30 game against the Lakers. ... San Antonio super-sub Manu Ginobili played Wednesday after sitting out three straight games with a groin strain. ... Rookies Kyrylo Fesenko and Morris Almond both were inactive for the Jazz, meaning both wound up playing nine games in their initial NBA seasons.
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