After two straight blowout wins in the playoffs, the Utah Jazz are watching what they say. They're thinking before they speak. They're measuring their words and making sure they get everything just right.
In other words, they're being extra cautious.The reason is, the Jazz are on a roll. And when you're on a roll, you don't want to do something to get you off. In the Jazz's way of thinking, you can't be too ready and you can't be too cautious. Being on a hot streak is as good a reason as any to be nervous.
"We haven't done anything yet," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.
The problem for the Jazz is, for two straight games they've taken off like a runaway cement truck. People are scattering to get out of the way, and those that don't are getting crushed. Tuesday night at the Alamodome, they built an 18-point first quarter lead, saw it cut to three, and charged out in the second half to take an easy 95-75 win over the Spurs in the first game of their second-round series.
So after beating the Blazers on Sunday by 38, and demolishing the Spurs by 20 two nights later, they're taking their usual approach: they're being humble. They didn't point their fingers in the Spurs' faces or hang on the rim after dunks. They didn't accuse David Robinson of being soft. They didn't even remind Chuck Person he's getting fat.
"We're playing good basketball," allowed the Jazz's Karl Malone. "But there's still this gut feeling I have that we haven't done anything yet. You win a game like this and, goodness, people go hog wild. You lose they're all booing and saying, `What's wrong with you?' "
If the Jazz are sounding slightly paranoid for a team that has held its last two opponents to 64 and 75 points, it isn't unusual. This a team that could downplay a lunar landing. The Jazz never met a win they couldn't minimize. They're the only people on earth who still use the word "fortunate" in everyday conversation.
"It's good to come away with a win," warned Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, "but it doesn't mean we've won the series."
Certainly, with a 1-0 series lead, you have to wonder what's been going on with the Jazz. This is the team that managed to lose to the L.A. Clippers AND the Golden State Warriors on consecutive nights. The same team that lost seven of nine games late in the year. The team that has been going at pretty much the same medium-fast speed since Karl Malone and John Stockton arrived a little more than a decade ago.
Having dawdled around until Sunday to wrap up their first-round series with the Blazers, nobody suspected they would hit the Spurs like a case of hives on Tuesday. But sure enough, they were all over the Spurs in a matter of minutes.
Five minutes into the game the Jazz were up by 11 and building speed. Three minutes later Malone dunked on a breakaway to move the lead to 18. You kept waiting for the P.A. announcer to say the Spurs had mixed up the starting time and would be arriving late.
Though the Spurs cut the lead to three before the half, by the mid-third quarter it was back up to 15. The Spurs never got closer than nine. With five minutes to go, fans were heading to the exits like someone had announced free food on the concourse. The Spurs sent in the reserves, having long ago given up hope of winning and instead begun to concentrate on resting the starters for Thursday's game.
Meanwhile, the Jazz went back to the locker room determined to remain humble. If there was any celebrating, it was over by the time the media came in. After that it was all as sober and earnest as an Amish village. Not a war whoop to be found. Nobody predicted an NBA title. Nobody said they'd win the next one by 30.
So when Jazz center Felton Spencer was asked if he thought they surprised anyone the last two games, he made sure he stifled his laugh. "I know we have," he said. "It's the same thing every year. Nobody ever picks us and every year it's old news to us. So now we've surprised everybody but us."
Thus, the Jazz headed off into the night with a 1-0 series lead over the Spurs, talking about confidence and at the same time talking about how little they've accomplished. "Like I said early in the season," said forward Chris Morris, "we can be a scary team."
And the way things have been going lately, they're even scaring themselves.