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Kragthorpe: Utah Jazz eager to stage home playoff game after five years away

First Published      Last Updated Apr 24 2017 09:56 pm

Doc Rivers likes the design of Vivint Smart Home Arena with fans seated so close to the court, and he admires how the Utah Jazz's crowd loudly supports the home team.

"The fans are terrific there," said Rivers, the Los Angeles Clippers' coach. "And you know the noise is not going to be for you. Having said that, I've never seen a fan block a shot or get a steal."

That's true. Yet after five years of waiting for another home playoff game, Jazz fans will be as involved as possible Friday night, when the Jazz and Clippers resume their best-of-seven series in Game 3. The crowd's impact will be tested in an era when NBA road teams are having more success than ever.




The Jazz's Game 1 victory in Los Angeles illustrated how tough it is for teams to protect the home court, and that's the Jazz's own challenge now. Winning home games Friday and Sunday would be a major achievement for the Jazz without center Rudy Gobert, sidelined at least for Game 3 with a hyperextended knee.

The Vivint atmosphere will be revved up, that's for sure. The Jazz once made 20 consecutive playoff appearances, but this stuff is now a novelty. The franchise's return to the playoffs is driving interest to a degree that one fan acknowledged making "unwise financial decisions" to attend the playoffs.

For other fans such as Salt Lake City resident Danny Heaps, who began attending Jazz games within the past five years, playoff basketball is fresh material. Heaps loves the Vivint environment, and "I've heard that the playoff atmosphere is even more amazing and intense."

The Jazz like to believe they have one of the league's biggest home-court advantages. Yet judging by the franchise's historic norms, a team that went 22-19 on the road should have won roughly 36 home games this season. The Jazz instead were merely 29-12 at home. The Clippers also were 22-19 on the road, so they won't be overwhelmed by the Vivint scene.

As for the Jazz, the boisterous support energizes the players, but "getting too excited or too anxious can obviously hurt as well," guard Joe Ingles said.

Jazz fans' enthusiasm increased when the Jazz won Game 1 in Los Angeles, in contrast to the feeling of defeat that pervaded the team's most recent playoff home games. In 2012, a Jazz team that included second-year players Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors trudged off their home court, having been swept by San Antonio in a first-round series.

Even going into Game 3, with the Jazz having lost the first two games in San Antonio by a total of 46 points, a sense of inevitability surrounded that series. It's different now, with the Jazz having rebuilt themselves into a playoff team that tied for the fifth-best record (51-31) in the NBA and won Game 1 on the road. The question this weekend is how much playing at home will help.

The 2007-08 Jazz team of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer went 37-4 at home in the regular season. But home-court dominance has diminished leaguewide this season, with home teams winning 57.5 percent of games. That's an all-time low, according to ESPN The Magazine's recent analytics report.

The magazine extensively studied the issue, with NBA sources suggesting that players becoming more committed to health and fitness, better travel accommodations and even dating apps — making romantic pursuits more convenient — contributing to the road teams' success.

So the Jazz apparently are having to overcome Tinder to win home games, among other factors.

In any case, the franchise is responding to the playoff opportunity and doing its part to reward the fans' interest. Some devotees will show up looking like Gobert or Hayward in hairstyle, with the Jazz promising to pay for designer cuts at selected shops Thursday and Friday.

The Jazz will distribute T-shirts and towels with the season's theme of "Take Note" to every fan, and a banner stretching across three sections of the lower bowl will be unfurled before tipoff. A theater-style searchlight will flash on the arena plaza, framing pregame activities.

Inside the building, fans should be in playoff form. They proved that last week, standing and roaring as a lineup of reserves finished a victory over San Antonio in the Jazz's final regular-season game. The win became meaningless later that night when the Clippers won their game in Los Angeles, earning the home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Friday's game, in contrast, is highly meaningful to a fan base that agonized during the long climb back to this stage. Favors looks forward to the environment he experienced five years ago, anticipating even more volume. "Noisy, a lot of energy," is his forecast for Friday night. "It'll be fun."

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

 

AT A GLANCE

Game 3

Who » Los Angeles Clippers at Utah Jazz

When » 8 p.m. Friday

Where » Vivint Smart Home Arena

Series » Tied 1-1 in best of seven


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