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Utah Jazz relish spot in the playoffs, despite challenge

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz know they'll be huge underdogs against the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

They almost relish that fact, though.

"It's going to be exciting. It's going to be fun," Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward said about his first playoff experience. "It's going to be a challenge."

Despite the Spurs being the Western Conference's top team, the Jazz believe they can overcome their latest obstacle.

"It's cool you get to go in there and have a chance to shock the world," said Hayward, who has some NCAA experience of doing that with his Butler team. "I think we'll be ready for it."

Paul Millsap looks forward to playing the team that kept the power forward and his Jazz teammates from getting to the NBA Finals in 2007. The Spurs beat Utah 4-1 in the Western Conference Finals.

"We know that we can beat them. We've beat them once," Millsap said. "We overcame a lot of challenges this year, so our confidence is high. We feel like we can win."

Game 1 is Sunday at San Antonio's AT&T Center.

SHORT CELEBRATION: Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin admitted he took a moment to let the Jazz's playoff achievement soak in after Utah beat Phoenix to clinch a spot in the postseason.

Corbin: "Tuesday night after riding home, I thought, 'Whew, we made it. We're in now. That part is done.' "

So was the relaxing moment.

"Then," Corbin said, "you start thinking about this last game (against Portland), resting guys but keeping them sharp. Getting some guys some more minutes on the floor before we have to get ready for San Antonio."

And then he started thinking about the Spurs before dozing off.

"I slept good that night, though. I slept hard. It was a good nap," Corbin said. "You get up the next morning and you're back at it."

And, yes, Corbin did refer to his night's sleep as a "nap" — probably a telling insight into the taxing in-season schedule of an NBA coach.

THE GOOD LIFE: Blake Ahearn is still pinching himself — and not just because the 27-year-old was called up from the D-League to finish the season with the Utah Jazz.

On Thursday, before scoring seven points in 15 minutes, Ahearn received some great news. His wife and their prematurely born 5-week-old daughter will be discharged from the hospital this Saturday. Baby Blake Richelle has been in the newborn intensive care unit since March 19.

"I'm headed to the playoffs. My kid's coming home," Ahearn said, smiling. "It's been one heck of a month, that's for sure. I've enjoyed every second of it."

KEEP ON WINNING: The Jazz ended this irregular season with five straight victories, marking the first time since the 1996-97 campaign that Utah finished its schedule on a winning streak (three-plus).

Utah went 4-0 to end that season, and advanced to the championship series for the first time in franchise history.

Corbin's response to that trivia: "Let's do it. We're there now, so let's go to the Finals."


Twitter: DJJazzyJody