Utah Jazz: Jazz to open vs. Denver
Twenty years after he took over for Frank Layden, Jerry Sloan will mark his anniversary as Jazz coach not with a celebration at EnergySolutions Arena, but with a road game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The location of the Dec. 9 anniversary game for the longest-tenured coach in American pro sports was the biggest surprise Wednesday as the NBA released its schedule for the 2008-09 season.
"I don't care where we play," Sloan said by phone from his Illinois farm. "It doesn't make any difference to me as long as we win. I've always felt that way. . . . It's not about me. It's about the players anyway."
NBA spokesman Mark Broussard didn't know whether the Jazz had requested to play at home that date. "It really wasn't anything that was on our radar screen as an anniversary date or anything," Broussard said.
The Jazz will open Oct. 29 at home against Denver, which will play without Carmelo Anthony, who was suspended for the season's first two games in connection with a drunken-driving incident in April.
Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said he would wait to talk to Sloan before deciding whether to ask the Timberwolves to acknowledge the milestone.
"I've never cared about honors," Sloan said. "That's kind of a personal thing, I guess. It's always been more about our team. I've always said this is a players' league and I've been lucky enough to have lasted as long as I have."
Minnesota spokesman Mike Cristaldi said the team would look into doing something for Sloan. The Timberwolves did honor Kevin Garnett when he returned last season with Boston, Cristaldi said. Even more than the anniversary game, the Jazz's first preference would be for Sloan to win his 1,000th game as Jazz coach at home. No coach in NBA history has won 1,000 games with one team; Sloan will enter the season with 995 victories.
The Jazz will play four of their first five games at home, with the lone road game coming against the L.A. Clippers. If the Jazz can win all five games, Sloan's 1,000th victory would come at home Nov. 7 against Oklahoma City.
After going 17-24 on the road last season, the Jazz will be tested with a five-game trip not even three weeks into the season. They will open against New York and then play four games in five nights at Philadelphia, Washington, Charlotte and Cleveland.
The Jazz had no trip longer than four games last season, but will have three five-game trips this season. That includes their annual pre-Christmas trip, which starts with a Dec. 15 game against the defending champion Celtics.
The Jazz weren't thrilled to have to finish the season by playing four games in five nights. The regular-season finale will be April 14, a TNT-televised game against the Lakers at Staples Center.
It will be one of six TNT games for the Jazz, including a Feb. 19 home game against the Celtics and Northwest Division games Dec. 11 against Portland and April 2 at Denver. The Jazz will play five times on ESPN.
Their most favorable month would seem to be February, when the Jazz will play eight of 11 games at home. Only five of those games will come against playoff teams. March will bring nine of 15 games on the road, with nine games against playoff teams.
The Jazz will play a rare set of back-to-back home games Thanksgiving weekend against Sacramento and New Jersey. Their first trip to play the relocated Seattle SuperSonics in Oklahoma City will come Jan. 14.
With 15 teams in each conference, the Jazz will play four Western Conference teams only three times each. As a result, San Antonio (Jan. 27) and the Lakers (Feb. 11) will be coming to EnergySolutions Arena only once this season.
The Jazz also announced their seven-game preseason schedule, which includes a homecoming game for Deron Williams at the University of Illinois. The Jazz will play the Bulls in Champaign, Ill., on Oct. 17 and again the following night in Chicago.
Oct. 29: Season opener (7 p.m., Denver)
Nov. 12: First nationally televised game
(at Washington, 6 p.m., ESPN)
Dec. 9: 20th anniversary of Jerry Sloan's start as Jazz coach (at Minnesota, 6 p.m.)
Jan. 2: First game against the Lakers
(at L.A., 8:30 p.m.)
Jan. 14: First game at Oklahoma City
Feb. 19: First game against the Boston Celtics (8:30 p.m., TNT)