Monson: The Jazz's Great Race has started
Five of my six favorite quotes from auto racing apply, or could apply, to the Jazz's current sprint with the Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets for the last playoff spots in the West:
Parnelli Jones said: "If you're in control, you're not going fast enough."
Stirling Moss said: "To achieve anything in this game, you must be prepared to dabble in the boundary of disaster."
Buddy Baker said: "He ran out of talent about halfway through the corner."
Enzo Ferrari said: "What's behind you doesn't matter."
Dale Earnhardt said: "The winner ain't the one with the fastest car it's the one who refuses to lose."
The sixth, which has no application at all to the Jazz, is from Ricky Bobby, saying grace in the film "Talladega Nights": "Dear Lord baby Jesus, we thank you so much for this bountiful harvest of Dominos, KFC and the always delicious Taco Bell. I just want to take time to say thank you for my family. My two sons, Walker and Texas Ranger, or TR as we call him, and, of course, my red-hot smokin' wife, Carley, who is a stone-cold fox."
The Jazz are in a race all right, and it couldn't be tighter. With 15 games left, Utah, the Rockets and the Nugs are all 27-24. Barring a strong run by Phoenix (25-26) or Minnesota (25-27), or a collapse by Memphis (27-21), two of the three will make it in, and the third will head for the lottery.
There are many who believe the lottery is actually a better place for the Jazz to land, if they're serious about adding one more piece two, if Golden State finishes no worse than eighth in the final standings, on account of the Warriors' top-seven protected draft pick that otherwise goes to the Jazz as they build for the future.
Kevin O'Connor, though, says the Jazz are more interested in the present, that they are trying to win now: "That's what we do."
So, race they will.
And to pull off a victory, if facing the Thunder or Spurs in the first round can be viewed as that, the Jazz will have to give heed to at least the words of Jones, Moss, Ferrari and Earnhardt.
They'll have to give caution the universal salute of disrespect and race and play like madmen.
That's not something they achieved in their last game, against Boston, where they fell behind early and then scrapped to get back in the game late, running out of petrol in the pursuit. That loss showed alternately the Jazz's weaknesses and strengths. They don't hit perimeter shots. They don't give up. They don't win on the road. They don't get beat on the boards. They don't consistently defeat good teams. They don't run short on young talent.
If the Jazz really have making the playoffs as their top priority, they must utilize their biggest advantage their depth. In other words, just go for it and run hard. Rubbin' and racin', racin' and rubbin'. If Kevin Garnett swings an elbow, if he dents a fender, swing one, dent one back.
On the last laps of an exhausting season, the Jazz should be fresher than every team they play. Getting up the floor isn't always their forte, but they should make the attempt to emphasize transition and simply wear opponents out. Run the floor like Gordon Hayward does. The Jazz defense has improved, creating more opportunities for them.
That didn't happen enough against the Celtics. After the game, Paul Pierce said: "We kind of smell the end of the season, with the playoffs coming. This is the time of year you've got to step it up and get ready."
The Jazz are trying to develop that keen olfactory sense.
Of their remaining games, seven are on the road at the Clippers, Portland, San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans, Memphis, Portland. The games at home are against Sacramento, Phoenix, Golden State, San Antonio, Dallas, Orlando, Phoenix and Portland.
The Nuggets' schedule: Charlotte, Orlando, New Orleans, Golden State, the Lakers, Houston, Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Minnesota on the road. At home, they have Phoenix, Golden State, Minnesota, Houston, the Clippers and Orlando.
The Rockets face Chicago, the Lakers, Sacramento, Portland, Denver, Dallas, New Orleans and Miami on the road. At home, they play Memphis, Indiana, the Jazz, Phoenix, Denver, Golden State and New Orleans.
Utah appears to have a schedule edge over the other two as they turn for the flag, but â¦ it's bound to be close straight to the end. The Nuggets face nine road games, but they've been much better away from home this season (12-12) than the Rockets (8-17) and the Jazz (8-18).
If making the playoffs is winning, we'll now see who, as Dale so aptly put it, refuses to lose.
Gordon Monson hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone.
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