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"Why can they do it? Who are those guys?"

— Paul Newman, as Butch Cassidy, in the 1969 film.

The unlikely entry of the Utah Jazz into the NBA playoffs isn't really so much about possible outcomes. A respectable showing in the first round against the team's longtime scourge, the redoubtable San Antonio Spurs, would be no pale achievement.

Of course, there are many Jazz fans hoping for something more. But they are, after all, fans, and by definition at constant risk of pain and suffering. And in this case, sadly, only the unthinkable can save them.

But no matter what happens in this best-of-seven series, we in Utah who follow the Jazz, with rabid or merely passing interest, won't be left bereft of hope when the law of averages finally shows up at the locker room door with an exit visa. Indeed, even now, before Sunday's first game in San Antonio, there are grins all around that will almost certainly survive these playoffs and carry through to a new NBA season in the fall.

You see, the NBA cognoscenti, those in the Beehive chapter, at any rate, are hinting around that this makeshift band of low-profile overachievers could grow into a Jazz unit like none other, one with virtually limitless potential to do in coming years what no other Jazz team has done and — whisper this — win it all.

That's the talk, anyway, after Utah went 21-13 after the All-Star break, won its final five regular season games and squeezed into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference with a 36-30 record, all begging the question, what happened? Wasn't this supposed to be a rebuilding year for a franchise ripped asunder last season by the departures of its longtime coach, Jerry Sloan, and disaffected All-Star point guard Deron Williams?

It was, and the primary rebuilder, Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor, did his job with remarkably subtle precision, creating a mix-and-match roster of capable veterans and largely untested rookies and second-year players who, in the second half of the season, began coming into their own, individually and as a team.

Just as deserving of praise is Tyrone Corbin, the former Jazz assistant who, somehow, over the course of a strike-shortened season, managed to meld his players, old and young, into a group that has rewarded fans for their patience, and infected — or is it inflicted? — them with hope.

Who are these guys? We're about to find out.

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