Kragthorpe: Suns’ win hurts Jazz, but endorses NBA product
Published: April 5, 2012 10:39PM
Updated: April 5, 2012 10:46PM
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Kurt Kragthorpe

Commissioner David Stern’s adjective of choice to describe this NBA season? Saved.

Not shortened.

The satisfaction of completing a labor agreement that enabled the league to stage a compressed, 66-game season overrides any of Stern’s concerns about how the schedule has resulted in a lesser brand of basketball, as players deal with a relentless run of extra games.

Any challenge of the commissioner’s assertion would be confronted with the evidence of Wednesday night’s game at EnergySolutions Arena, with Stern in town.

The Jazz’s 107-105 loss to Phoenix did them untold damage in the Western Conference playoff chase, but nobody could complain about the entertainment value of this game. Not when the Jazz rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter, tied the game twice in the last 30 seconds and — for the second time in four games — had an otherwise successful shot come just after the final buzzer.

And having 38-year-old Suns guard Steve Nash deliver two go-ahead baskets in the last 14 seconds pretty much destroys any argument that the schedule is wearing down everybody in April.

The league is squeezing these 66 games into a four-month window. The practical result is two more games per month than usual, which seemingly is not a huge difference. Yet every team has dealt with some illogical, demanding scheduling sequences.

The Jazz, for instance, will visit San Antonio on Sunday, come home to play the Spurs again Monday, then play at Houston on Wednesday.

Regardless, “We think it was a fair tradeoff to have a 66-game season,” Stern said. “Because if it went the other way, the question would be, ‘What do I think about the fact we had only a 50-game season? Isn’t that horrible — and shouldn’t we have an asterisk?’

“It’s a lose-lose, no matter what,” Stern said, “but we’re very happy that we got our 66-game season in and our fans are accepting it as well as they have.”

So are the coaches and players, having adjusted to the grind.

“I think the guys have done really well, just responding to the schedule,” said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. “Everybody’s a little beat up, but for the most part, I think the quality of play has been good.”

Phoenix is among six teams that have swept a three-games-in-three-nights sequence, defying the theory that the scheduling would create major problems. The Jazz recently lost a four-overtime game to an Atlanta team that was completing a three-in-three stretch.

So there’s evidence that a shortened training camp may have caused more issues than the schedule itself.

“We struggled at the start, but I think everybody’s playing good basketball now,” said Suns coach Alvin Gentry. “The level of play has picked up.”

That certainly was the case Wednesday, when the Suns responded to a back-to-back assignment by escaping with a critical victory in a tough environment.

Stern cannot walk into EnergySolutions Arena without reflecting on the late Larry H. Miller’s contribution to Utah and the league, “having lived it with him,” Stern said.

In building the arena and keeping the Jazz in Utah, Miller “decided that this [franchise] was going to be a community asset,” Stern said. “He knew that he was cementing — and I do mean with cement — the bond between the team and the community. He set a tone.”

Stern is in town for Wednesday’s Governor’s State of Sport Awards luncheon at ESA. Miller will be honored posthumously with a Lifetime Achievement in Sport award.

Miller would have liked the Jazz’s effort down the stretch Wednesday, but not the result.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com