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Utah Jazz: Jazz trying not to be overconfident

Published April 18, 2008 1:57 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

What does it say when the Houston Rockets win 22 consecutive games in the regular season - the second-longest winning streak in NBA history - and the Jazz's biggest concern might be overconfidence as they prepare to play the Rockets in a first-round playoff rematch?

It's largely the product of the Jazz's recent history against the Rockets, starting with their 103-99 Game 7 victory in Houston last playoffs, leaving Tracy McGrady 0-for-6 at leading a team out of the first round in his career.

The Jazz returned to Houston on Jan. 27 for the first time since that game and handed the Rockets their last loss before the historic streak. Only four days ago, the Jazz built a 21-point lead early in the second half in cruising past Houston at EnergySolutions Arena.

With that in mind, it's easy to see why the Jazz are consensus favorites against the Rockets, especially with Yao Ming lost for the season to a stress fracture in his left foot. Of course, it also was the last thing the Jazz wanted to hear Thursday.

"You start talking like that, that's when you get beat," Kyle Korver said. "I feel like we definitely have confidence against them because we have beaten them a couple of times, but it's not an overconfidence by any means.

"They're a very good team, they play really well together, and if Tracy gets hot, watch out. We've just got to go out there and do what we've been doing, try to establish an inside game and we'll see what happens."

Asked about the pitfalls of overconfidence, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan instead branded his players as underdogs. He's right in one respect: Without home-court advantage, the Jazz will have to win at least one game in Houston to advance.

"I don't know how when you're the underdog and going into somebody's building, thinking you're going to be overconfident," Sloan said. "I hope they're confident we can win but not overconfident to think we don't have to play.

"We have to play our hearts out to beat these guys in their building in some way or another."

After holding a short team meeting Thursday, the Jazz brought up some of their points of emphasis for the series with reporters. First of all, they will look to take advantage of Yao's absence in looking inside to Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur.

The Rockets start 41-year-old Dikembe Mutombo and rookie Luis Scola before turning to Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes off the bench. At the same time, Sloan made clear the Rockets are a deeper and tougher team than they were last playoffs.

"They added four or five bulldogs, you might say, tough guys that are going to get after you," Sloan said.

The Jazz (54-28) also are keen on reclaiming home-court advantage as quickly as possible, unlike last playoffs when they dropped their first three games in Houston before finally breaking through in the fourth quarter of Game 7.

"It's going to be a tough series," Matt Harpring said. "It's not going to be a walk in the park for us, and I think we know that. The biggest thing is to try to get one of these two wins on the road and if we do that, I think we're back in the driver's seat."

The Rockets' 22-game winning streak earned the Jazz's admiration, with Boozer acknowledging he tuned in nightly to see against which team it would finally end. Only the 1971-72 L.A. Lakers, led by Gail Goodrich, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain, ever had a longer streak, winning a record 33 consecutive games.

Although Houston won 10 straight games without Yao, the streak was snapped by Boston on March 18. The Rockets still won nine of their last 16 games after the streak.

"You don't see teams that lose a piece like a Yao Ming do that kind of thing," Boozer said. "For them, I assume that they have a great chemistry, a great camaraderie, they love playing with each other. To put something together like that, you have to have that kind of cohesiveness."

Even with Rick Adelman replacing Jeff Van Gundy as coach, the Rockets remain a sturdy defensive team, ranking among the NBA leaders in allowing just 92.0 points on 43.3 percent shooting. They also are a potent three-point shooting team.

Since this is a playoff rematch, the Rockets could have revenge on their minds. They are a different team with the additions of Scola, Landry, Bobby Jackson and Aaron Brooks, and Sloan guessed Adelman's emphasis would be on the present instead of the past.

"They have something to prove," Sloan said. "I don't know if it's revenge as much as they have a better record [55-27] than we do and they want to prove that."





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