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Steve Luhm: In this lockout, a younger Utah Jazz team may prevail

Published March 25, 2012 11:14 pm

NBA • After 1999 work stoppage, an older Utah was out of gas by postseason
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"History teaches everything, including the future." — Alphonse de Lamartine

I didn't know Lamartine, a French writer and politician who died in 1869 — just a little before my time.

But he must have been a pretty smart guy.

Lamartine's view of history translates perfectly to what has happened in the NBA during its last two lockout-shortened seasons — at least to the Utah Jazz.

In 1999, the aging Jazz were still built on a foundation of John Stockton, Karl Malone and Jeff Hornacek.

But Stockton was 37, Malone was almost 36 and Horncek turned 36 during the playoffs.

The Jazz burst from the starting gate and won 19 of their first 23 games. Then, they wore down like a thoroughbred asked to run too many races in too short a time.

The Jazz were 32-8 with 10 games remaining. But they finished 5-5 — playing those games in a 15-day span.

Still, Utah tied with San Antonio for the best record in the league. Because of a tiebreaker, however, the Jazz ended up with the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.

They drew young, emerging Sacramento and big, athletic Portland in the playoffs.

After back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals, the bone-weary Jazz's final legitimate shot at an elusive championship died in the second round against the Trail Blazers.

Simply, the Jazz had emptied their tank by mid-April.

Throughout the year, former coach Jerry Sloan believed the 50-game season would hurt a veteran team more than a young one because of the mental and physical grind.

He privately predicted younger, deeper teams would benefit down the stretch and be dangerous in the playoffs.

He was right.

New York won six of its final eight games and qualified as the No. 8 team in the East.

The Knicks reached the Finals behind the play of veteran center Patrick Ewing and a 20-something supporting cast led by Larry Johnson, Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston.

Thirteen years later, could history repeat itself?

And this time, are the Utah Jazz benefitting as much as any team in the league?

Maybe.

Since a loss at Sacramento following the All-Star break, the Jazz have won 11 of their 15 games.

They have beaten Miami, Oklahoma City and the Lakers in Los Angeles.

They have won six straight overall and seven in a row at EnergySolutions Arena, where Denver had as much of a chance as Newt Gingrich during Utah's 121-102 victory on Friday night.

The Jazz enter Sunday's game at Atlanta tied for seventh place in the West. But they are closer to fourth than to ninth.

Suddenly, Utah appears to be just the kind of young, deep team that can take advantage of the abbreviated 66-game schedule and its potential impact on teams less capable of coping with the grind.

It happened once.

It might be happening again.

luhm@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sluhm