Monson: Jazz in precarious need of Game 1
As Mehmet Okur pedaled a stationary bike on Saturday after the last Jazz practice before Game 1 against the Lakers today, he talked about how excited he was for the playoffs, how he was hopeful that his hamstring injury would heal up, how his team had to come together and dial in on the important task at hand.
"I want to give my best to my team," he said, unaware that there was duality to that wish, as in, giving his best to a team that was on the verge of dire need.
"It's the playoffs," he continued. "We should be ready."
Should be or will be?
Against the Lakers, nobody's quite sure, not even the Jazz themselves. They are saying all the right things, but there are circumstances, extenuating and otherwise, swirling around the Jazz that, if they become evident in games, will doom them in short order.
First, the determined, defiant talk.
"We know everyone's counting us out," Ronnie Brewer said. "We're focused. Everyone on this team is looking forward to showing the world what kind of team we really are, that we are a team not to be taken lightly."
Added Deron Williams: "There is a sense of urgency in playing L.A. Nobody thinks we can beat them. But there's motivation in that. We're ready to go. Everyone has to play well. One or two guys playing well, that's not good enough."
Second, the circumstances.
They are well known.
The Jazz are playing the best team in the West, a team with one of the two best players on the planet, a team that is superior to the Jazz at every position, except point guard. They also are facing that team at a time when the Jazz are vulnerable. They have skidded into the postseason, losing games they should have won and getting blown off the floor by good teams.
"A lot of things went on with us," Williams said. "We lost our confidence."
And, now, they must find it -- completely and quickly.
It's worse than just that. The Jazz also are a team precariously balancing, depending on one's point of view, on the end of either a diving board or a plank, with the Lakers and elimination on one side and potential obliteration on the other.
The Lakers are talented and everybody knows it. But also nine current Jazz players' careers could begin to be blended into change within a week. Carlos Boozer can opt out. Kyle Korver can opt out. Okur can opt out. Paul Millsap will be a restricted free agent. Jarron Collins, Brevin Knight, Ronnie Price, and Morris Almond will be unrestricted free agents. The Jazz also can decline the option on Kyrylo Fesenko.
If that's not a distraction -- or at least a heavy consideration -- banging around in their heads, then they aren't human.
A lot of observers thought the potential fluidity at season's end would either motivate or hinder the team as a whole, and, as it's turned out, it did both.
But on the eve of the playoffs, two of the uncertain said they don't even bother with what's coming next, beyond the Lakers.
"I don't think about it," Okur said. "I just want to go play basketball. I'm not worried about myself. I just want the team to play well. I have no clue about anyone else. Just myself."
Korver said he could feel the intensity level among his teammates rise over the past few days, including among those who are not sure where they'll be playing, or for how much money, next season.
"I'm one of those guys and I've only thought about that when I'm asked about it," he said.
Instead, the immediate threat of the Lakers is said to be taking precedent, which makes some sense since a bad showing in the postseason is more likely to mess up what comes thereafter. Although, the same was true over the last three weeks of the regular season, when the Jazz darn near disintegrated.
The series against the Lakers, then, is a classic Musketeerian scenario -- all for one and one for all, the last part being much more important than the first. And Williams is fully aware.
"Right now, we need everybody," he said. "Everybody."