SALT LAKE CITY — Now that the Jazz have logged the best preseason (8-0) in their history, rolling the Lakers twice, right out of the gate, all that's left to do now is pick up their Larry O'Brien Trophy.
It's all over but the ticker-tape parade, right?
The Jazz open the regular season tonight at Denver following a historic exhibition run. They punished the Blazers, buffeted the Suns, waxed the Clippers and Kings. Now comes the tough part: doing it for real.
Preseason games are like singing in the shower, compared to performing on stage.
"It's good for morale (going 8-0), and we feel good going in, but once the 27th of October comes, you've got to start all over," said Jazz assistant coach Tyrone Corbin. "You can't rest on it. But I feel there has been good progress made."
I got my first taste of preseason basketball in the early 1970s; in fact, it was my first NBA game. I was stoked (using a '70s term) to see the Los Angeles Lakers and San Diego Clippers in an epic struggle. I expected Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain to put on a clinic. Turned out I saw only one of them. Wilt played, oh, 10 disinterested minutes. The other two didn't step on the court. Whether they were hurt, resting or just overslept, I'll never know.
Nowadays I know that if I had to choose between watching two hours of C-SPAN or a preseason NBA game, I'd take the C-SPAN, hands down. The three least indicative things on earth, as far as I can tell, are last year's weather, the jacket cover of a book, and a team's preseason record.
"It means nothing," said assistant coach Phil Johnson. "We've had them before and then had bad seasons. So I think it means you're on the right direction, but it certainly doesn't tell you how it's gonna go. There are so many things, injuries and different things come up. So it's a work in progress."
This is how indicative the preseason is: The Jazz once went 1-7 (1990), yet still won 54 games in the regular season. Two times they went 7-1, with vastly different results. In 1994, they did so en route to a 60-win season. In 2003, they did the same, yet finished just 42-40 — last in the Midwest Division.
They have had good years after bad preseasons, bad seasons after good preseasons, and mediocre years after both.
The 1995 Chicago Bulls went a so-so 5-3 in the preseason, yet produced an NBA-record 72-10 regular season.
It's true the Lakers were a respectable 6-2 in the preseason the last two years, and went on to win the O'Brien Trophy. But they also went just 2-4 in 2007, yet still made it to the NBA Finals.
There are a couple of logical reasons for preseason games: It gives coaches the chance to try some new things and scrutinize unfamiliar players. But that's about it. So while it sounds good that the Jazz were perfect in the preseason, all it really tells me is that Jeremy Evans, Ryan Thompson, Othyus Jeffers and Sundiata Gaines got the best of Gani Lawal, Earl Clark, Zabian Dowdell and Hakim Warrick.
It tells me the Jazz's subs, in some combination, under certain circumstances, outplayed Phoenix's subs. And that Jerry Sloan got a chance to briefly look at C.J. Miles' conditioning, Deron Williams' timing and Andrei Kirilenko's strength and oh-by-the-way the Jazz won.
If I were commissioner, I'd allow only one preseason game. If after a month of watching his team practice a coach doesn't know whom to play, that's not my problem.
If memory serves, the leading scorer for my first-ever NBA game was a guy named John Quincy Trapp. Or maybe it was Bill Turner or Travis Grant. I forget.
All I know is their names, like their games, are lost in history.
I'm still waiting on Elgin Baylor.