HOUSTON It was a relaxed, confident, devil-may-care Jazz team that worked out briefly Sunday morning at the Toyota Center.
OK, that's an exaggeration.
Confident, yes. Relaxed, maybe. But complacent?
Not on Jerry Sloan's watch. As the longtime Jazz coach would tell you, this is no situation to be jack-potting around.
Having defeated Houston in Game 1 of this best-of-seven playoff series on Saturday night, the Jazz have already moved into their Game 2 mode, which is to say their memories are blank.
Win? What win? Holding Tracy McGrady to 20 points, getting a great night from the bench and outworking the Rockets should, in Sloan's mind, officially be dust in the wind by now. That's how he likes it.
If you want to get contemplative and satisfied, take up scrapbooking. But if you want to stay alive in the playoffs, live in the moment. Sloan's worst nightmare is relying on past success. That's why, when you ask him about his distinguished career, he says, "I haven't really accomplished anything yet."
Same reason why the Jazz had barely shut the locker room doors on Saturday before Sloan was talking about the next step.
"He was like, 'We've got to come back tomorrow ready to win.' We can celebrate a little bit, but particularly Coach Sloan didn't let us celebrate too much," said guard Ronnie Brewer. "He always has something he thinks we need to improve on."
So keep your misty water-colored memories. Write your memoirs of a life well lived. The only practical use Sloan has for the past is if you can use it to warn about the future.
"Obviously, that's what we came here for is to win," he said immediately after Saturday's victory. "But it's only one game."
There is actually much for the Jazz to be satisfied with, if so inclined. They could but probably won't rest in knowing they controlled the tempo and outcome in Saturday's 93-82 win. McGrady shot a subpar 7-for-21, thanks to Ronnie Brewer's, Kyle Korver's and Andrei Kirilenko's defense. Houston is without starting center Yao Ming and point guard Rafer Alston, both out with injuries. Utah's bench produced 28 points and vastly outplayed Houston's.
The Jazz will return home after tonight's game no worse than tied in the series.
It's enough to make a team slightly smug.
Sloan, though, is a sort of de facto defender of the faith when it comes to eternal vigilance. To use a farm phrase, he's going to keep warning his team 'til the cows come home.
"He knows every game is important and that you can't take what you did for one game and relax any more just because you won the first one," said assistant coach Ty Corbin. "That's what he's doing now is getting us refocused all over again. "
Focusing can take on some strange forms. Many a night has found the Jazz winning, yet afterward all Sloan wanted to talk about was mental lapses and selfish play. Other times the Jazz will play poorly, lose badly, and Sloan will tell the team to forget about it it's in the past.
In other words, the man sometimes gives his team more leeway when it loses than when it wins.
"Yeah," said guard Deron Williams, "after games we sometimes end up asking each other whether we won or lost."
That time-honored phrase about not mattering whether you win or lose, but how you played the game could also be applied to Sloan's attitude.
Except, of course, it does matter to Sloan whether they win or lose.Hence, the Jazz take their advantage into Game 2 knowing a couple of immutable laws are in effect. First, Sloan will expect them to play like there's no tomorrow or past, either. And second, if they do win, they'll likely want to limit their celebrating to a simple, short pat on the seat.
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