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There's Still Some Ball to Play - The Downbeat - #743

 Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Getty Images

Out of respect for the Utah Jazz team that has played really hard and wanted to win more than most fans this season, I vote that we don't make any mention of the offseason today. We will have plenty of time to talk about where the team should move forward from here and we will. But for today, we are going to address this current season and try to create some positive mojo for game 4. We're not dead yet.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and being down 3-0 may be enough to cause Tyrone Corbin to change the starting lineup for game 4. Reportedly, the question is whether or not to start Derrick Favors. I don't think there is any question that Favors has been the best Jazz player in this series overall. His impact on the game has been tremendous. In his 80 minutes he has played in the 3 games, the Spurs have only outscored the Jazz by 1 point, which is remarkable since the Spurs have outscored the Jazz by 58 points total. Favors only has 4 blocks on the series, but he challenges just about everything. He is so quick that when he is in, almost no San Antonio shot in the paint goes uncontested. I have always argued that blocked shots are a meaningless stat, because just the threat of a blocked shot is often more important. When you are forcing your opponent to shoot 15-20 footers instead of drive to the rim, you probably aren't blocking shots, but you are probably helping your defense even more.

I can't find video, but I remember a commercial John Stockton did for Zion's Bank with a slow motion montage of him shooting and dribbling alone in a gym, talking about giving 110% like Zion's bank does. I hadn't thought about that commercial in years, but I've been thinking about effort and what it means to give 110% (obviously it's just a cliche and most cliches aren't meaningful).

What does it mean to you to "give it your all?" Does it mean to just move the fastest or be the most sweaty after the game? Does it mean that you dive on the floor for loose balls? I think those are the easy ways to see someone go "all out" but i think 90% of giving your best effort happens off the court. It happens in the offseason and in the film room. Because you also have to be your smartest to give your best. You can work your hardest, but if you aren't working smart, you aren't getting anywhere. Matt Harpring can play his hardest defense, but if he is stuck in "no man's land" on defense, it does no good. Gordon Hayward can run his hardest on a fast break, but if he doesn't run to the right spot, he might get a basketball thrown at his head. I guess the point of all of this is that the time for preparation for this series and this season happened a long time ago, but it is going to take a collective effort and gameplan to get a win tonight. That includes the Jazz players and the coaches. I think this team has played hard all year, but I'd love to see them play a little smarter too.

I plan on writing an entire post on the subject, but I will share a couple thoughts regarding 8th seeded teams in the NBA playoffs. I think the popular thought and assumption is that the Jazz went from a non-playoff team to an 8th seed, which will set us up to progress to a top 4 or 5 seed next year, just from natural progression. It has certainly happened for many teams. The Memphis Grizzlies were an 8th seed last year and are now the 4th seed for instance. There is no doubt playoff experience helps teams make a leap the next year, but Memphis also essentially added Rudy Gay in the offseason. I actually think this year's 8th seeds have a lot in common. The Jazz are good offensively and poor defensively. The Sixers are elite defensively and subpar offensively. Both the Jazz and Sixers are good mixes of veterans and young guns and the teams are sort of transitioning to youth movements. It will be interesting to see where both of those franchises go the next couple seasons.

I also find it fascinating that both of these teams entered their series with almost no chance of knocking off the #1 seed. The Jazz have followed the script, but after a blown ACL to Derrick Rose, the Sixers find themselves on the verge of round 2. It really is true that once you make the playoffs anything can happen, because anything has happened for Philadelphia. I guess the bottom line is that the Jazz are one destroyed Tony Parker ACL from getting to the 2nd round. That was not an endorsement of attacking Parker, by the way.

You can't have a playoff series without a little drama I suppose:

"We’re playing against a team that is at its peak, and I don’t see nobody beating ’em. … It’s a great team. I just take my hat off to ’em. Mad respect,"

"It gets to the point where you’re just playing a team that’s better than you; that know what it takes to win and know how to win,"

"If you lose to a team because you didn’t play your best, that’s one thing. If you’re playing your best and doing everything that you can, and you’re just playing against a team that’s better than you, that’s another one."

Those, as you probably know, are 3 quotes by Al Jefferson, about the Spurs. Those are quotes you would expect to hear from a guy who just got swept by a superior team. The problem for Al Jefferson is that there is still a series to finish and it sure sounds like Jefferson is already giving up on winning, which is strange.

In truth, I am not that bothered by Jefferson's comments. I think they are weird and ill timed and really honest. Al has always worn his heart on his sleeve and been really candid, and these comments are strange, but also just from the heart.

But there is no doubt that these comments will put a bad taste in a lot of Jazz fans' mouths, especially the ones who are upset with Al's playoff performance thus far. No matter how you feel about the quotes, I can't think of any scenario where a Jazz fan thinks more highly of Big Al after those comments.