They say the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
With that morsel of logic in mind and after watching the gutty Utah Jazz almost topple the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on Sunday afternoon in Game 1, I’ll be rooting full-throated for the Jazz to win this second round series.
And so should you.
Having just witnessed the Jazz dismantle my beloved Denver Nuggets in the first round of the NBA playoffs, allow me to give you an assortment of reasons to get behind the scrappy team from Salt Lake City.
Of the 13 players listed on the Lakers current roster, all but two were first round picks and five were lottery picks (and yes, I’m including third overall pick bust Adam Morrison here). Comparatively, of the Jazz’s 13 players, only two were first round picks, nine were second rounders and four were undrafted. Deron Williams is the only lottery pick on the Utah squad.
The Lakers best player – shoot-first Kobe Bryant – has been coddled since child birth, having been born the son of an NBA player and having his NBA career pre-ordained. The Jazz’s best – the pass-first Williams – wasn’t even regarded as the best player on his high school team (that would be former Timberwolves wash out Bracey Wright), making his ascension into the NBA’s best point guard all the more remarkable.
The Lakers big men – Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom – were blessed with abnormal height, long arms, huge hands and huge contracts to begin their NBA careers. The Jazz’s big men – Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap – were considered so undersized coming out of college that they both slipped into the draft’s second round. The Jazz’s third big man, Mehmet Okur (another second round selection), ruptured his Achilles tendon in Game 1 of the Nuggets series after gamely trying to play on it all season long.
You can accuse the Jazz of being floppers, but there’s no bigger flopper in the NBA than the Lakers Derek Fisher. Whenever Fisher is near the ball, someone ends up on the floor…risking injury each time. The Jazz can ill afford to sustain another injury as they’re already playing without Okur and their third-best player, Andrei Kirilenko.
Lakers head coach Phil Jackson is an arrogant opportunist (and a damn good coach, make no mistake about it), having had the good fortune of coaching Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to six NBA championships before hand-picking the Lakers of Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal for three more and then winning a fourth last season with Bryant and Gasol. Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan, on the other hand, is the last of the old school coaches in all of professional sports, having coached the Jazz since 1988. When the Jazz revamped their roster in the post-Karl Malone/John Stockton Era, Sloan didn’t bail as most – including Jackson – probably would have. Instead, Sloan stuck around to rebuild the new-look Jazz into a title contender again (he even put up with DeShawn Stevenson along the way), guiding them to the 2007 Western Conference Finals. Sloan also coaches during games, whereas Jackson waits until the second half of the fourth quarter to begin doing so.
Of the 30 metropolitan areas that have an NBA team, the Lakers play in the second largest and the Jazz play in the smallest, ranked behind tiny Oklahoma City.
The Lakers bring in approximately six times as much revenue as the Jazz, thanks to a lucrative TV contract that includes all of Southern California plus Hawaii and Las Vegas. And that’s before the endless pile of receipts from sponsors and ticket sales start coming in. Now you see why the Jazz have to make a go of it with all those undrafted players and second round picks while the Lakers can pay into the NBA luxury tax without batting an eye.
The Lakers appeared in nine NBA Finals between 1980 and 1991 due largely to the Jazz’s stupidity. When the Lakers traded the aging Gail Goodrich to the then New Orleans Jazz in 1976, the Jazz compensated Los Angeles with three number one picks. One of which became the first overall selection in 1979 and turned into…you guessed it…Magic Johnson. Yet another break for Los Angeles.
Back to the Sloan vs. Jackson thing, the two legendary coaches have faced each other four times in the playoffs. Twice in the NBA Finals when Jackson’s Bulls defeated Sloan’s Jazz in back-to-back years, and in the 2008 and 2009 playoffs when Jackson’s Lakers easily bounced Sloan’s Jazz out of the second and first round, respectively. Sloan is due for some revenge.
Finally, the Lakers franchise has appeared in 30 of the NBA’s 63 NBA Finals. The Jazz franchise has been to two. Since their infancy as an NBA franchise, the Lakers continue to benefit from good fortune, favorable officiating and lucky bounces – as we saw again at the end of Game 6 of the Lakers/Thunder series when Gasol happened to be standing right where Bryant’s final shot caromed off the rim for a series-winning put back.
And so while I as a lifelong, die-hard Nuggets fan feel a little dirty saying this: LET’S GO JAZZ!!
After all, I think we’ve seen enough of the Lakers playing in June to last a lifetime.
Photo courtesy of AP: Michael Goulding