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Utah Jazz get reality check after late-season run

SAN ANTONIO — It was party time, sing-along time at AT&T Center in Sunday's Jazz-Spurs playoff opener. Two minutes left, time out with a 15-point Spurs' lead. Cue the music: Garth Brook, on sound system, belting out "Friends in Low Places," a song about a low-down cowboy breaking up with his high society lady.

They love this stuff in Texas, but honestly, low places?

If this is low and disrespected, sign up the Jazz.

"There's (still) a long, long, long way to go," Spurs guard Tony Parker cautioned.

But getting shorter by the minute.

Following a five-game win streak at season's end, the Jazz got a reality check on Sunday, losing 106-91 to the four-time champion Spurs. The Jazz couldn't contain San Antonio on the perimeter or in the paint. The biggest damage was done inside, thanks to Parker's slashing and the Jazz's inability to clog the lanes, but it was a string of three 3-pointers that closed the door.

So it's back to the planning for the Jazz. Priority No. 1: Keeping Parker away from the rim, which is like keeping Kennedys out of politics. Priority No. 2: Figuring out which of the Spurs' subs is going to have a great day. This time it was veteran Stephen Jackson, who got 14 points in 27 minutes. And Priority No. 3: Preventing Tim Duncan from becoming the first person ever to simultaneously be playoff MVP and president of the AARP.

"They are really good. These guys have experience and if they put it together, they have chance to make run at the end (of the playoffs). But you know what? We're going to compete against them on Wednesday night and go back to work and see what happens," Jazz coach Ty Corbin said. "We'll make some adjustments and see happens. They're going to have to suit up like we are."

It just so happens the Spurs' uniforms are made out of Kevlar.

While it was the first playoff game for Jazz players Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Blake Ahearn, Derrick Favors and DeMarre Carroll, it was also a first for a Corbin. He had never been head coach in a playoff game..

And while neither Corbin nor his inexperienced players appeared particularly nervous, that didn't stop San Antonio from imposing itself.

"It's a little more intense than as a player, because on the floor you have some control going. Maybe you can hit somebody or something, and a coach can yell a little because you've got to get guys to respond," Corbin said. "But for the most part our guys played hard and made it interesting."

While it seems eons since the Jazz beat the Spurs — the real Spurs, not the watered-down version that showed up at EnergySolutions Arena earlier this month — that wasn't always the case. Utah won three playoff series with the Spurs in the 1990s, including one that came so shockingly easy that center Felton Spencer groaned in mock dismay: "I hate when that happens."

But at one point beginning in 2000, the Jazz lost 18 consecutive games to the Spurs. Later the Jazz won four in a row.

San Antonio took six straight, covering last year and this, until the Jazz finally prevailed in Salt Lake on April 9. But that's not really a bragger, considering the Spurs didn't play Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili or Parker.

Not only did they fail to play them, they failed to even bring them on the trip.

Just as significant is that the Jazz are now only 2-17 at AT&T Center, which seems appropriately named. Whether by telegraph, telephone, text or telepathy, the Jazz always seem to get the message: They aren't going to win here. In the 2007 Western Conference Finals, they lost by margins of eight, nine and 25.

Like baldness and burrito bulge, the trouble came on quickly and advanced aggressively.

That's also how the third quarter went on Sunday.

"They just know what it takes to put you away and they continue to come," Corbin said. "Any mistake you make, they make you pay for it, and it's a quick pay."

Which, unfortunately for the Jazz, can also lead to a quick exit.


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