Utah made the 2007 Western Conference Finals, which seemed to validate the foundation of this Jazz team as a championship contender. Lost in that picture was that they faced the Tracy McGrady led (and therefore doomed) Rockets in the first round, then caught the biggest break ever when they got to face the Golden State Warriors, fresh off one of the biggest first round upsets ever over the Mavericks.
The Warriors won that series entirely based on matchup advantages which of course, did not exist beyond that.
The Jazz found out the hard way the next two years that perhaps they were not as close to the heavens as they had seemed. They were railed out in the semifinals the year after, and the first round last year, both times by the Lakers.
But this year appears to be different. They’ve been more consistent, more versatile, and better overall. They swept the Spurs. I’ve doubted the Jazz in years past but if you’ve watched this team, you know there’s something different about them, they’re playing at a higher level. So what do the players think? What’s the difference between this year and year’s prior for the Jazz?
The terrific Ross Siler at the Salt Lake City Tribune asked Carlos Boozer that question, and his answer was simultaneously peculiar and predictable. From the Tribune:
“The biggest thing for our team is being able to play at home as much
as possible,” said Boozer, with the Jazz in position to have home-court
advantage at least for one round. “We’re probably an average road team,
but we’re an exceptional home team.
“I think for us, if we can play as many games as we can at home,
it’ll help us advance, especially if we’re healthy.”
So there you have it. Homecourt advantage is the only reason this team will be different. Except the Jazz had 31 home wins in ’07, 37(!) in ’08, and 33 in ’09. This year they have 28 and already twice as many losses at home as in ’08. One of the best thing about the Jazz this year is that they’ve played better away from Energy Solutions Arena.
Beyond that, though, is the fact that this team may not end up with a seed better than 4th. They’re in 4th right now, with only a half game separating them and Denver in the 2nd seed. If they don’t get to 2nd, they’re still going to be on the road for at least two games in the second round. All of that is before you face the fact that they’ll definitely be in Staples for the first two games of the Western Conference Finals if they get there.
The Jazz are a better team than they have been. More complete, deeper, and playing with more resiliency. But if they go further, it won’t be because of homecourt advantage. Which is good, since in a tough-as-nails Western Conference, there’s no guarantee they’ll have it.