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A resounding yawn: Playoff passion for lackluster, losing Jazz wanes

Published April 22, 2009 6:53 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It has been happening for days now, full-page ads running in the local newspapers reminding basketball fans that Utah Jazz tickets are still available.

For a playoff series.

At home.

Against superstar Kobe Bryant and the flashy (and generally despised) Los Angeles Lakers.

Such a scenario would have seemed preposterous six months ago, when the Jazz began the NBA season amid soaring excitement and high expectations. But the easy availability of tickets that normally would be harder to find than a winning lottery ticket -- nearly 600 other seats were available through just one of the myriad online ticket brokers, the day before the game -- suggests that many fans have all but given up on the team as it limps toward an inglorious end to what began as a promising season.

"If we took 300 texts today about the Jazz," said Jon Lund, the co-host of a morning sports talk radio show on 1280 The Zone, "I'd say 75 percent were, 'We have no chance, I can't wait till the season's over.' Or, 'Let's move on, this dog is dead.' ... Hope is fairly low."

The Jazz will try to avoid the possibility of being swept out of the playoffs for the first time in 20 years tonight when they meet the Lakers in Game 3 of their best-of-seven first-round series at EnergySolutions Arena (8:30 p.m.), but they have yet to offer many encouraging signs. Center Mehmet Okur is out injured, the Jazz have lost nine of their last 11 games overall while playing disastrous defense, and the Lakers have mostly dominated the series so far.

"We'll see what happens," coach Jerry Sloan said. "That's all you can do."

Fans seem to agree. A team spokesman said Wednesday that a "limited amount" of tickets remain for tonight's game, though he declined to say exactly how many.

Recent sales of team merchandise have also been unspectacular at the Fanzz sports apparel store in the South Towne Center in Sandy, where only one Deron Williams jersey hangs in the front window amid a colorful collection of Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Chris Paul and LeBron James jerseys. But store manager Derk McDermaid -- a lifelong Jazz supporter -- said many fans buy memorabilia on the day of home games, so today will give him a better indication how far passion has plummeted.

Yet McDermaid said he believes the Jazz will win tonight, and "our big challenge will be Saturday" in Game 4 of the series.

"I don't think fans have given up," added Zane Miller, one of the retail chain's warehouse employees. "They're just more frustrated. This was supposed to be our year, but we had so many injuries and it has been frustrating."

Certainly, fans are unaccustomed to being in this position -- cheering for a team that was supposed to have grown and matured in the two years since reaching the NBA's Western Conference finals, but now occupies only the eighth seed in the playoffs against one of the top title contenders.

Only three such teams in 25 years have upset a top-seeded opponent, while only 14 teams in league history have rebounded from losing the first two games to win a best-of-seven series.

Even the team's most dedicated fans are bracing for an early offseason.

"It's going to be pretty hard to beat the Lakers down two games," said Lynn Barlow, an original season-ticket holder who estimates he has seen 90 percent of Jazz home games. "We did beat them once at home. But they have Kobe Bryant and all the money in the world and they got Pau Gasol for free ... it's pretty hard to beat that type of organization."