Jazz look to get right at home
Heads hung low in the locker room. Voices spoke barely above a whisper, and players stared glassy-eyed into space, wondering why they haven't been able to generate better results in the NBA's Western Conference finals.
But the Jazz are coming home now - and that could change everything.
"We hope it does," coach Jerry Sloan said. "We have a bunch of guys that want to do well and hopefully they will fight back and give us an opportunity to win."
Having lost the first two games of their best-of-seven playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs in maddeningly similar fashion on the road, the Jazz are reeling but returning home to play Games 3 and 4 at EnergySolutions Arena - where they are unbeaten in the playoffs.
So while the basketball world is increasingly questioning whether the Jazz have enough - even at their best - to handle the Spurs, the players are hoping a few days off and a roaring home crowd can help them fight their way back into the series.
"We can beat this team," the Jazz's Andrei Kirilenko insisted. "We know that."
The Spurs seem to know it, too.
Even after dismantling the Jazz again in a 105-96 victory in Game 2 at the AT&T Center on Tuesday night, the Spurs maintained that the series is far from over. Coach Gregg Popovich and his players don't expect the Jazz will make things easy.
"We understand they're going to use that crowd energy," forward Tim Duncan said. "They're going to be a lot more confident playing in that building, and we're going to have to bring a much better effort than we had here to beat those guys. So we are going to go in there and try to get that first game and really put the pressure on them."
You might say the pressure is already on, however.
Only a dozen teams in league history have lost the first two games and come back to win a best-of-seven series - although the Jazz are one of them, having done it against Houston in the first round of the playoffs.
The Jazz did beat the Spurs twice at home in the regular season, however, once without leading scorer Carlos Boozer. And Boozer said the Jazz should be able to play confidently in Game 3 on Saturday, knowing they "played well - just not well enough" on the road against the Spurs.
"We've proved that we can score against this team, we just haven't proved that we can stop them yet," Boozer said. "So that's a little discouraging. But we know if we tighten our defense up a little bit more . . . we should have a much better chance. We just need a couple more guys to step up, give us a little bit more help, and hopefully, it will be a much better game in Salt Lake."
In both road games, the Jazz fell apart in the second quarter and never recovered.
The Spurs hit a franchise playoff-record 13 three-pointers in Game 2, while the Jazz bench has played poorly in both games.
"We have to figure that out," the Jazz's Derek Fisher said, "and we obviously need contributions from more of our guys, which will help. Overall, collectively, we aren't playing well, and when you play against a team this good, you need to play well as a team. . . . We have to figure some more things out as a team to be more effective as a group."
Briefly: Boozer and Williams were among the eight players added to the USA Basketball roster Wednesday and invited to Las Vegas for training camp in July, a month before the Americans will try to qualify for the 2008 Olympics.
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