MONSON: Being too nice, too soft makes Jazz bow to Spurs

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Let's say it the way it is here.

The Jazz are a bunch of wimps.

A happy little group of Caspar Milquetoasts.

A collection of Florence Nightingales.

Nice guys, all around. Sweet-faced guys.

Which is admirable and good - if you're looking for a friend or selling Girl Scout cookies or greeting people at the entrance of a Wal-Mart or styling hair at Franck's Beauty Salon. But if you're trying to win an NBA title, it's not so - how should we say it? - sooper-dee-dooper.

That's what the Jazz are supposed to be doing, right? Climbing the rugged mountain. Learning their hardy lessons. Growing up, front and center, on the playoff stage en route to fulfilling their vast potential. Battling the mighty San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals.

But no.

When the requirement is for them to step up and become a pack of angry men, what do they show?


They reveal what they are: The prototypical polite, timid victims sitting on the beach getting sand kicked in their faces by the dudes from south Texas, and, thus far, not finding it within themselves to so much as budge to do anything about it.

Jerry Sloan said it a different way.

He called his players "soft."

He said they need to "learn to compete."

He told them they have to "step up and stand their ground."

"We need some toughness," he said. "But you don't just pull that out of your hat and say, 'I'm going to be tougher today.' You can learn it, yes. You can compete harder. But you have to commit yourself to it. You have to come to play."

The Jazz have not come to play.

They have come to shrink away.

In their first two games in this series, both losses, they have shown up long enough to get punked by the Spurs, and, then, once comfortably behind, show a little effort.

Meanwhile, the Spurs, after getting their big leads, have looked like a cat slapping a ball of yarn around until the final buzzer. They have said complimentary things about their opponent, but mostly because the Jazz have so dutifully acquiesced to the Spurs' will.

It has been noted that Games 1 and 2 were nearly identical, and many have compared the performances by both teams with the Bill Murray film "Groundhog Day," in which the character played by Murray lives the same day over and over. In the aftermath, Tim Duncan, a player of such remarkable consistency, has even been tagged "Groundhog" by some.

Well. If Duncan is "Groundhog," because every one of his days is exactly like today, then, the Jazz should knock him into tomorrow.

I'm not advocating idiotic anger and reckless violence.

I'm talking about useful anger and measured violence.

The Spurs did that exact thing to the Suns.

The young Jazz may not yet be as experienced or talented as the Spurs, but that doesn't mean they should weakly stand by while they get their butts handed to them by their respected elders.

If they go on deferring to the Spurs, they'll get swept by them. San Antonio shot 56 percent in Tuesday night's game, many of them easy looks. Beyond easy. The Spurs were in a comfort zone wider than Grandma's at the family reunion. They played with figurative grins on their faces.

Rather than knock those grins off their faces, the Jazz were content to let them smile and smile.

Sloan noticed.

After Thursday's practice, he put it like this: "You've got to come with the right attitude, an attitude that you have to put everything out there. Our offense was casual. We set a few brush screens like we didn't want to touch anybody."

It's time for the Jazz, if they're interested in playing past Monday, to do some touching.

"If I get an opportunity to play, that's what I'm going to do," said Rafael Araujo, the brawny, seldom-used center, who played briefly, but effectively, in the first game. "Play hard."

Screen hard. Defend hard. Rebound hard. Foul hard.

"I have no problem with a hard foul," said Sloan. "I don't like dirty fouls, but hard ones are fine with me."

Die hard.

"Playing physical could help," said Matt Harpring. "We don't want to play cheap, but there's a time and a place for [physical] play. It could change momentum."

How about while the Jazz are young?

There's no better time for them than when they are down 2-zip in the conference finals and the Spurs are regularly waltzing into the lane to score uncontested layups and dish to wide-open shooters on the three-point arc. No better place than at home, where Jazz fans, at least, are aggressive and angry, where the series has shifted for the next two games.

"I mean, the numbers are [ridiculous]," Carlos Boozer said. "They are shooting over 50 percent from three. . . . We just have to lay it all out there."

And lay some wood out there, too.

"We have to let them know, 'Hey, we're here,'" said Mehmet Okur.

So far, the Jazz have done the opposite.

They have simply been intimidated, been wide-eyed, been respectful and courteous and cooperative. They've been the Washington Generals.

They've done what Sloan always implores them not to do - play with tuxedos on, or was it party dresses?

Either way, they're wimps.

They may not be as poised and talented and experienced as the Spurs, but they can be tougher. They can play like grown men. They can put an end - with some bad intentions, if need be - to Tony Parker moving unimpeded into the lane and carving them up like turkeys. And Tim Duncan and Fabricio Oberto working them down low, doing whatever they want there.

Until the Jazz do something, anything, about that, they're worse than losers in these conference finals, they're a bunch of namby-pambies.

San Antonio at Utah, Saturday, 6:30 p.m.

Ch. 4