The last time the league had a shortened regular season in 1998-1999, the San Antonio Spurs won their first of four championships. To the surprise of many who counted the aging squad out of the title hunt this season, the Spurs rank among the frontrunners in the playoff picture once again. On Tuesday Gregg Popovich was honored with the NBA’s 2012 Coach of the Year Award after leading San Antonio to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference with 50 wins.
The Utah Jazz are the first of four hurdles separating the Spurs from their fifth NBA title. The Spurs went 3-1 against the Jazz during the regular season, and they won the first game of this series easily 106-91. Counting Game 1 of this opening round playoff series, the top-seeded Spurs are on an 11-game winning streak. They are a powerful 29-5 in the Alamo City this season, best home record in the Western Conference. Pop’s squad also finished second in the NBA in point differential at +7.2 this year.
So do the Jazz stand a chance against the Spurs in this series? Well, as the Spurs know all too well, anything can happen in the playoffs. Last year the Spurs were dismissed by the underrated Grizzlies in Game 6. The Jazz, led by ferocious big man Al Jefferson, are a capable group and would love to steal Game 2 tonight at the AT&T Center. Big Al had 16 and 9 in Sunday’s loss. His frontcourt mate Paul Millsap went for 20 and 9 in the series’ first 48. Utah got to the charity strip 30 times, had 13 offensive boards and got decent scoring production from their bench – 31 points. However, the Jazz committed 16 turnovers and shot a pedestrian 42% from the floor.
To take down the well-oiled Spurs, Utah will have to take better care of the ball and create higher percentage shots for the right shooters. In addition, starting PG Devin Harris will need to have more than two assists, and 9th-year veteran starting 3-man Josh Howard (just back from knee surgery) has to score. In Game 1 the former Maverick had zero points.
On the other end, the Jazz must do a better job of containing MVP-candidate PG Tony Parker. The zippy, slashing Parker had 28 points and 8 dimes on Sunday. More importantly, he got into the lane at will and allowed his disciplined teammates to set up for high percentage shot attempts. Playing fast, but always in control, Parker dominated the action was the definition of a floor general. Future HOF’er and 4X champ Tim Duncan had a been-there-done-that double double with 17 points, 11 boards and 5 dimes.
Tune in to TNT tonight at 7:00 PM ET to see if the Jazz can even this first-round series before heading back to Utah.