THE JAZZ RESUME THEIR playoff journey tonight against the Sonics, after what must seem like an eternity. It's been four days since they last played and their longest rest since the first-round series with Portland early in May.
This year's playoffs have been something of a marathon for the Jazz; they've played 13 games in 26 days. Included in that was a run of 9 games in 16 days. Consequently, having the last three days without a game is like going on summer vacation. They're hoping they didn't forget their plays in the meantime.Until this week, the Jazz had to be wondering if they were playing a baseball schedule. It was more like running on a treadmill than playing in the playoffs. Like credit card interest and CNN, they never seemed to rest.
The Jazz have always prided themselves in not complaining about their schedule. They think it's unseemly to admit being tired. They'll either deny concern or look at you as though you'd asked if they've ever had an alien encounter.
That attitude comes from coach Jerry Sloan, who is the original tough guy. This is a man who thinks getting your nose broken is preferable to giving up position on a rebound. He doesn't want to hear about fatigue. He thinks people who worry about rest should be in a rest home or a hospital.So when asked about whether his team could use this week's respite, Sloan, not surprisingly, said: "I really can't worry about that. That's the least of my worries."
In other words, he isn't going to allow himself to think about it, much less talk about it.
It isn't as though the Jazz couldn't use the days off. Though they have gotten younger in the last few years through the draft and free agent signings, the heart of their lineup is as old as the Grand Canyon. Malone will be 33 in July, John Stockton is 34, Jeff Hornacek 33.
Admirable as Sloan's philosophy on fatigue is, it doesn't always work out for the best. Take marathoning, for instance. In 490 B.C. a man named Phidippides ran the first marathon, and by all accounts was a guy Sloan would have loved. According to legend, Athenian soldiers, outnumbered 6 to 1 by the Persians on the plain of Marathon, won a stirring victory by killing thousands; everyone else ran for their ships.
Filled with the same type of adrenalin rush that NBA players get in the playoffs 2,500 years later, Phidippides raced off for the city of Athens, about 25 miles away, to spread the news. When he finally came into the city, he was so exhausted he was able to utter only one word - "Nike!" - which, if you can believe it, wasn't the name of his shoe company. It was Greek for "Victory!"
We can only wonder how the course of history would have changed if he had uttered "Reebok!", which I think means something like "I love you, man."
At any rate, even though Phidippides finished the race, he was dead at the end. He went on and on without stopping, but there's no doubt a good long rest in the middle would have helped.
If nothing else, the days off should help the Jazz's injury situation. Stockton is reportedly playing with a pulled hamstring, a thigh contusion and an elbow that has been troubling him since the regular season. Stockton's response is always the same: "I'm fine."
Sloan blames Stockton's turnovers - seven against the Sonics on Monday - on teammates not getting to the right spots on the court at the right time, which may be true. At the same time, Stockton has had the ball stolen several times in this series, sometimes in the open court and without the double-team. The fact is that Stockton needed this week's rest, as did the others, to help overcome fatigue or heal injuries after a long playoff run.
Not that they're going to admit it. Malone says he'd rather play every other day than wait for game days. "I don't know," he said. "I kind of like just getting back into it. But I'm just a player. I don't make the decisions."
So whether they wanted to or not, the Jazz are back to playing again tonight. Maybe they'll look fresher and play better. Maybe they'll admit they feel better. Perhaps they'll even figure out what everybody at home in their easy chairs, watching the game on TV, already knew: There are worse things than admitting you could use some rest.