HOUSTON At the start of the season, point guard Deron Williams and power forward Carlos Boozer were rather vocal about promising to take over leadership of the Jazz.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan responded as he typically does to such vows, essentially saying, "Show me, don't just talk about."
Now the regular season is done, and the Jazz are in the playoffs for a second straight year with Boozer and Williams at the controls.
When Sloan was asked if the two lived up to their words, he answered heartily in the affirmative.
"I think they've done a heck of a job with this team," Sloan said."You know, I think there was probably a little bit of doubt, obviously, with our team, the way we started off, because we were gonna be playing some young guys," the Jazz coach added. "But I think they (Williams and Boozer) overcame that with their work ethic and things they did every day."
BY THE NUMBERS: A look at how the Jazz fared statistically after 82 regular-season games:
• Williams finished third among NBA assists leaders with an average of 10.5, trailing only Chris Paul of New Orleans (11.6) and Phoenix's Steve Nash (11.1);
• With Dallas' Jason Kidd averaging 10.1 points, he, Williams, Nash and Paul become the first foursome to average 10-plus assists in the same season since Jazz retiree John Stockton, the Los Angeles Lakers' Magic Johnson, Denver's Michael Adams and Phoenix's Kevin Johnson did it in 1991;
• It's also the first year there has been more than one assists distributor averaging 10-plus since Stockton and ex-Jazz guard Mark Jackson did it in 1997;
• Boozer finished 18th among scoring leaders with an average of 21.1 points per game, and tied for eighth among rebounding leaders with 10.4 per game;
• Boozer (54.7 percent) finished ninth and shooting guard Ronnie Brewer (55.8) seventh in field-goal percentage;
• Williams was fifth among league leaders in double-doubles with 52 and Boozer was sixth with 51; and• The Jazz were fifth in scoring as a team at 106.2 points per game, third in steals at 8.7 per game, second in field-goal percentage at 49.7 percent and second in assists at 26.4 per game.
LOUSY THEORY: Much is made at this time about the benefits of going into the playoffs on a roll.
But Sloan does not necessarily buy the momentum argument, especially after Utah reached last year's NBA Western Conference finals despite the fact it finished 3-6 in the last nine games of the 2006-07 regular season including a five-game losing streak at the start at that stretch.
"I don't think that theory held up," Sloan said.This season, the Jazz finished 6-3 in their last nine including victories over playoff qualifiers Washington, San Antonio, New Orleans, Denver and Houston, but losses to Minnesota, Dallas and San Antonio.
MISC.: KJZZ-TV plans to air its Jazz playoff games this year in HDTV. ... According to at least one Internet site, the Jazz open with 12-to-1 odds to win the NBA title and 6-1 odds to advance the Western Conference finals. Boston is favored to win it all, and the Los Angeles Lakers are favored in the West. Boston's Kevin Garnett is favored to win NBA Finals MVP honors at 3-1, with Boozer at 25-1 and Williams 45-1. ... The Jazz are seeded fourth in the Western Conference playoffs because they won the Northwest Division. But, at 54-28, they finished with only the sixth-best record in the West. That earns them $74,394 from the NBA's $11 million playoff pool, to be shared among players and staff. They also earn $164,168 for qualifying for postseason play, with another $195,337 available should they advance to the next round. Had Utah beaten San Antonio in its regular-season finale, the Jazz take would have been $45,839 richer.