I have been a Utah Jazz fan ever since the 1997 Finals. When I moved to Illinois, it was at the height of the Bulls and Jordan's popularity. At the age of six, and attending a new school, I saw this as my chance to stand out. I began to cheer on the Jazz at school. I began to mock the Bulls. Then I began to watch the games. Stockton and Malone executing Sloan's pick-and-roll to perfection. Hornacek spotting up for three. The mountains on those deep purple jerseys. For better or, most definitely, worse, this was my team.
After Malone went to LA in search of a ring and Stockton hit the retirement pool, I began to lose interest. Andrei Kirilenko was the best player on the team and they were subpar at best. Then, in the 2005 draft came hope. I had followed U of I basketball throughout March, and decided I better start watching my Jazz again when Deron Williams was drafted. I was rewarded. My friends now grow weary of me selling him as the best point guard in the league. The Chris Paul-Deron Williams debate is one that gets answered, in my opinion, when they play head-to-head. Paul continues to struggle against the defense of D-Will, and the hard nosed style of play Jerry Sloan teams put out.
All of that being said, why do people continually ignore the Jazz? In a poll on NBA.com just a few days ago, the question "Which Western Conference team poses the biggest threat to the Lakers?" was posited. The choices were A. The Nuggets (then a 2 seed) B. The Mavericks (Then a 3 seed) C. The Suns (Then a 5 seed) or D. The Thunder (Then a 6 seed).
Where is the Jazz? Now a three seed, this is the same Jazz team that tested the Lakers mettle in the 2008 semifinals, taking them to seven games. Despite the loss of such a tenacious on-ball defender as Ronnie Brewer, I believe this is the best Jazz team since the Stockton-Malone combo last played together. Wes Matthews has stepped in and plays the ball as well as anybody. With a potential All-Pro point guard leading the way, and a 20-10 man at forward, they have a solid core. The Jazz also has more depth than they've ever had before. CJ Miles is decent enough as a swing man, and the Jazz has the ability to light it up from distance with Kyle Korver coming off the bench. The only thing they lack is a physically dominant paint presence.
They have come from behind to win the past two or three nationally televised games they have played. Sundiata Gaines three-pointer to beat the Cavaliers is the best regular season game I've seen since the Mavs-Suns took it to two overtimes in '07. Coming from more than ten down to beat the Blazers in Portland was still not enough to get people clamoring. And after the Caron Butler trade, the Mavericks are the sexy team to win. It doesn't matter the Jazz is only half a game behind for the 2-seed. Or that they are ahead of the team everyone thought would have the best shot at challenging the Lakers. It matters they don't have a leading scorer, like the Thunder. And they don't have an enigmatic owner, like the Mavs. And they don't have Kobe, either. But they have a coach who, despite being the winningest coach with a single team, doesn't have a COY trophy. And they have a point guard who is constantly overshadowed by his draft compatriot. And they have a big man who, despite the constant trade rumors, has never stopped being nothing short of productive. And don't look now, but with a win tonight and a Dallas loss, they'll own the number two seed in the West. Maybe then people will start paying attention.