Monday , Mar , 22 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Utah could be headed for the playoffs

(Sports Network) – Who would have thought that the Utah Jazz would have a
chance to make the playoffs this season?

After all, Utah lost two players who will one day be in the Hall of Fame.
Point guard John Stockton retired, while power forward Karl Malone signed
with the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent.

With 12 games left on Utah’s schedule, the Jazz lead the Portland Trail
Blazers and Denver Nuggets by 1/2 game for the final playoff spot in the
Western Conference.

Utah’s head coach Jerry Sloan has done an unbelievable job and deserves
serious consideration for Coach of the Year honors. It is hard to find experts
that predicted the Jazz would have a chance to appear in the postseason for
the 21st consecutive season. The popular prediction was that Utah was headed
for the lottery.

This was supposed to be a tough season for Utah’s players and its fans. The
Jazz lost their second-leading scorer Matt Harpring to a knee injury in early
January. The 27-year-old Harpring played in just 31 games and had averaged
16.2 points and 8.0 rebounds.

Andrei Kirilenko, who made his first All-Star Game this season, has been the-
go-to guy for Sloan. The 23-year-old forward leads the team in scoring (16.8
ppg) and rebounding. He has played in 66 games and has averaged a team-high
37.8 minutes per night.

Kirilenko’s supporting cast consists of Carlos Arroyo, Raja Bell, Gordan
Giricek and Greg Ostertag.

The point guard Arroyo, 24, is playing in his third season in the NBA. In
2002-03, he played in 44 games for the Jazz and averaged 2.8 points and 1.2
assists in a little over six minutes of playing time per game.

Arroyo, who has started all 59 games that he has appeared in this season, has
been steady at the point for Sloan. He has averaged 12.8 points and a team-
high 5.0 assists. He does not make the spectacular no-look passes like
Stockton, but Arroyo plays solid defense and has proven that he has the
ability to play in the NBA.

Bell and Giricek, who was traded by Orlando to the Jazz for DeShawn Stevenson
and a future second-round draft pick at the trading deadline, are solid
players.

The 27-year-old Bell is playing in his fourth season in the league. Prior to
this season, his career-best scoring average was 3.4 points, which he achieved
in 2002-03 while playing for Philadelphia. Bell, who has served as the Jazz’
sixth man, has averaged 11.2 points in 24-plus minutes of action in 70 games
for Utah this season.

Giricek has played 13 games four Utah since coming over from the Magic. He has
averaged 12.8 points for the Jazz. The former Memphis and Orlando guard can
knock down a shot from anywhere on the floor and was a nice addition for Utah.

A nine-year veteran, Ostertag is second on the team in rebounding (8.0 rpg).
The 31-year-old center has playoff experience and will be a valuable asset
both on and off the court if the Jazz earn a berth in the postseason.

One has to wonder. How can a team with a starting lineup of Ostertag,
Kirilenko, veteran Tom Gugliotta, Arroyo and Giricek be in contention for a
playoff spot so late in the season in the highly-competitive Western
Conference?

The Jazz, who are 23-11 as the host this season, play seven of their final 12
games at the Delta Center. Utah hosts the Denver Nuggets on March 27th. The
Jazz will also host the Washington Wizards, New Orleans Hornets, San Antonio
Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns.

Utah’s remaining road games are against the Seattle SuperSonics, Los Angeles
Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves. The
Jazz are just 13-23 as the visitor.

I guess one would have to attribute Utah’s success to great coaching. The Jazz
were supposed to be a team that would be lucky to win 30 games this season.
What a surprise!

UTA