SAN ANTONIO - Once upon a time, running a four-minute mile was considered impossible. So was recording sound, and keeping accurate time at sea. Nobody imagined for centuries that man could ever achieve flight, let alone somehow walk on the moon.
Eventually, though, somebody proved that all of those things could be done.
And thatıs just how the Jazz are approaching Game 1 of the NBAıs Western Conference finals against the San Antonio Spurs today at the AT&T Center, hoping they can similarly revolutionize contemporary thinking everybody knows the Jazz canıt beat the Spurs on the road, right? and turn upside down a series that most expect to be just another step toward another NBA Finals for the Spurs.
³We just try to change history,² forward Carlos Boozer said.
Certainly, repeating it is not going to work.
The Jazz have lost 16 straight games to the Spurs on the road over the last eight years - proving the Earth was round must have seemed more plausible than a Jazz victory - which is not the most encouraging statistic for a team that is going to have to win at least one game away from home to harbor a hope of winning the best-of-seven series and reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 1998.
Yet while the Jazz praised the Spurs as perhaps the most challenging opponent they could face in the playoffs, they also tried to downplay any lingering effect of the streak, saying that much of it was constructed before most of them joined the team.
"We go down . . . with the mind-set that what happened before is behind us," Boozer said. "We're obviously a different team than a lot of those losses, and we're playing much better than the losses that we contributed to. We're looking forward to making some new history, hopefully."
The Jazz already have defied expectations by advancing this far, and seem to have their best chance of stealing a road victory today - considering they have had four days off to rest since eliminating the Golden State Warriors in the conference semifinals, while the Spurs are playing barely 36 hours after putting away the Phoenix Suns in an intense and physical series.
But the Spurs also are armed with some of the best players in the game, from Tim Duncan to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili - a trio that combines to average 60 percent of their scoring in the playoffs. Plus, the Spurs have key reserve Robert Horry back from the two-game suspension he served for fouling Phoenix's Steve Nash into the scorer's table during Game 4 of their previous series.
"They will be the champions," Phoenix's Leandro Barbosa predicted.
Coach Jerry Sloan knows they have what it takes, at any rate. "They're a great team," he said. "They don't make any mistakes. They do a great job. . . . They have everything you want."
Including serious playoff experience.
While the Jazz have played exactly a dozen playoff games in the last four years against two equal or lesser opponents - Houston and Golden State, all within the past few weeks - the Spurs have won three championships in the last eight years. Reaching the conference finals is hardly the conquering of a new frontier, for them.
"They've all been through it," guard Deron Williams said. "Pretty much every guy on that team has a championship, and they've been through every situation imaginable. It's like a team full of Fishes - Derek Fishers, not fishes."
Fisher is the only Jazz player with championship experience, from his days with the Los Angeles Lakers. He said the Jazz need not worry so much about whether Boozer can handle Duncan, or whether Williams can control Parker or shake free from defensive stopper Bruce Bowen.
"Collectively, we can't allow people to dominate us, in terms of scoring a lot of points in the paint and the interior," Fisher said. "That's what we have to focus on, good team defense. They have great players, guys who can go for 20, 30 points, at one time or another. But collectively, we have to be able to slow them down and force them to shoot a low percentage."
And if they can manage that, who knows?
After all, there was a time that nobody had ever dreamed of riding in a carriage not drawn by a horse - and now look. Even the Jazz already have made a breakthrough, by clinching their first-round series in Game 7 in Houston and winning Game 4 against the Warriors in Oakland.
"We'd lost 17 out of 18 road games in the playoffs, and we snapped that," Williams said with a smile. "Twice."