Just when it appeared there was no place like home in the conference semifinals, the NBA playoffs took a unexpected statistical turn Friday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
The Utah Jazz, owners of the league's best record at home, lost to the visiting Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of their series and were eliminated. The 108-105 setback marked just the second loss in 23 games by a home team in this year's second round the highest winning percentage since 1964 when teams went 10-0.
How and why home teams have been so successful in the semifinals is a bit of a mystery to those involved. Perhaps it's a closely guarded secret.
"When I retire I'll tell you," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan joked after Friday morning's shootaround.
Utah center Mehmet Okur also failed to come up with an explanation.
"I have no idea. I don't know," he said. "I guess everybody plays good at home. I don't know. I have no idea."
After being forced to a Game 7 against San Antonio, New Orleans coach Byron Scott said if he could figure out what's going on with the "home-court stuff" he would "bottle it and sell it" to all the teams in the league.
Utah, which joined Orlando as the only home team to lose, thus far, in the conference semifinals, finished the season with a 41-6 mark in Salt Lake City this season.
AT HOME: The Jazz are now 9-2 in home playoff games against the Lakers. Before this series, the teams also met in 1988, 1997 and 1998. L.A.'s only other postseason win in Utah was a 113-100 decision on May 15, 1988. The Jazz bounced back from the loss to prevail in the next eight playoff meetings in Salt Lake City ... Utah has now been eliminated from the playoffs at home nine times. Previous ousters came in 1986 (Dallas), 1987 (Golden State), 1990 (Phoenix), 1992 (Portland), 1995 (Houston), 1998 (Chicago), 2001 (Dallas) and 2002 (Sacramento) ... This is the first time the Jazz have ever been eliminated from the conference semifinals at home. They were 5-0 before Friday's loss.
HEAD COACH CANDIDATES: Sloan isn't surprised that longtime assistant Phil Johnson and other members of the Jazz staff are being mentioned in coaching searches in Phoenix and Chicago.
Sloan has repeatedly said that he has three assistants (Johnson, Tyrone Corbin and Scott Layden) who could all be head coaches.
"I would never stand in any of their way," said Sloan.,
Before Game 6, Johnson said he didn't really have much to say about his impending interview with the Suns. He confirmed that Phoenix did ask the Jazz for permission to speak with him. The talks, however, have yet to commence.
Same goes for Corbin and the Bulls, who asked the Jazz for permission to interview him once Utah's playoff run was complete. Corbin is reportedly on a long list of candidates for the Phoenix job as well. Part-time Jazz assistant Jeff Hornacek is also in the mix.
BIG MAN'S BLOG: Former Jazz center Mark Eaton is writing a blog every Wednesday on the official web site of the National Basketball Retired Players Association (www.legendsofbasketball.com). In this week's edition, Eaton reminisces about Utah's 1988 playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers. He told the story of how head coach Frank Layden decided to close the locker room to the media after losing Game 1 an orchestrated act that he let the team in on.
"You guys are going to take a shower and go out the back door to the bus. I am going to go out in the hallway and tell the press that the Lakers are simply the best team I've ever seen and that we have no business being out on the court with them," Eaton recalled Layden saying. "On Tuesday night, we're going to come back and kick their rear ends."
The unorthodox strategy, which included a $10,000 fine, worked. The Jazz came back to win the next two games. Years later, Eaton asked Layden about the situation and learned that the coach came up with the idea while walking back to the locker room."Apparently, to be a great coach you have to be able to think on your feet," wrote Eaton.