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Aaron Falk, Tony Jones and Steve Luhm cover the Utah Jazz and the NBA for The Salt Lake Tribune. The Tribune on Twitter - Aaron Falk: @tribjazz, Steve Luhm: @sluhm, Tony Jones: @Tjonessltrib

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Spurs' Parker shows why he's an MVP candidate

Some observations after San Antonio's 106-91 victory over the Jazz in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series on Sunday afternoon:

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-- If the Spurs' Tony Parker doesn't join LeBron James and Kevin Durant in the top three of the Most Valuable Player voting, somebody hasn't been paying attention. Parker finished with 28 points and eight assists in Game 1. Almost everything the Spurs do on offense is predicated on Parker making a play. Without him, the Spurs are not as good as three or four teams in the West.

-- The Jazz need much more from point guard Devin Harris than they got in the series opener. He finished with seven points, after scoring five in the opening minutes, when Utah took an 11-5 lead. But Harris had a difficult time staying in front of Parker and didn't make him work on defense. Harris played so well down the stretch in the regular season I thought he could make his match-up with Parker competitive. But it was lopsided in Game 1 and, if it keeps happening, this will be a four-game series.

-- Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin started Josh Howard in place of DeMarre Carroll at small forward. It was a bold move, considering Howard had played only two games since coming back from knee surgery in mid-March. Carroll performed well in Howard's absence, but I understand Corbin's decision and probably would have done the same thing. Howard is a more dangerous scorer and more experienced than Carroll. He is a more difficult match-up for Spurs' rookie Kawhi Leonard and gives the Jazz more of a perimeter threat against the Spurs, who like to pack the lane on defense. That said, Howard must play better as the series progresses. He was scoreless in 16 minutes in Game 1. He missed four shots and committed two turnovers.

--- Gordon Hayward scored 17 points. More importantly, he was 12 of 12 on his free throws. Getting to the foul line is critical in road playoff games because it slows the pace and deadens the crowd. As a team, the Jazz shot 28 free throws, which is enough to impact a game. Besides Hayward, however, the other Jazz players went 11-for-18 from the line. That's not nearly good enough against a team like the Spurs.

--- Before the playoffs, I thought there were two teams the Jazz would have no chance of upsetting in a best-of-seven series: San Antonio and Miami. Nothing has happened so far to make me think I was wrong. I don't think the Jazz will win this series, but I believe they could have been competitive in a six- or seven-game series against any other team in the West. We'll never know, however, because the Jazz lost the tie-breaker with Dallas for the No. 7 seed, which would have resulted in a more favorable match-up with Oklahoma City.

-- Steve Luhm



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