I am one of those guys that just can't wait for the NBA season and to watch my team, the Utah Jazz, play. I may be a fan of teams for other sports and enjoy watching them play but, when it comes to sports, I live for the NBA. Win or lose, through thick and thin, this is my team. I remember the 97 and 98 teams. I have the Jazz/Rockets game on tape just for that dagger three. I can't look at that Bulls series and not wonder what might have been. I will cheer and root and live through the games, regardless of how they perform. I just don't know how else to be a fan.
Coming into this current season, however, there was more of an anticipation around Jazz fans. Maybe they've had tastes of what greatness could be and want something more. Maybe they feel that this team has one chance as a full unit to complete what they started together. Maybe they see the up-and-coming Blazers, the upstart Hornets, the aging Spurs or the monstrous Lakers and think that they have to try and win with this talent. Maybe last year's exit against the Lakers left a foul taste in their mouths. Maybe they fear a Boozer jump to Miami.
Whatever the case may be, the fans are more than excited. They're nervous. They're jumpy. They have many question marks. And I'm no exception. I wanted to see how this team would react in a real game. Training camp and preseason games can only fill requirements and shape expectations so much. Losing Deron Williams wasn't much help in gauging my expectations. I wanted to see them react. I wanted to see them play. I wanted to feel that charge of excitement again. I wanted to see how they responded to each challenge. I wanted to feel the rush again. And I was not disappointed.
Other people tell me not to get too excited over a squeaker of a win over the Denver Nuggets, a team many fans, myself included, wrote off as having too many questions to fully believe in, especially when they apparently gave away their best defender on a team that didn't play much defense last season. However, I ask that people give me my excitement for one game and let me enjoy what I saw.
For at least one game...
...Ronnie Brewer's claims of working on his jumpshot in the offseason were validated. Brewer didn't get as many slashes to the basket as I would normally expect, but Denver dared him to hit an outside jumper, just like LA did in last year's playoffs. Ronnie showed them that was a mistake, burying three long jumpers that looked much smoother than someone with his follow-through should have. If he can continue like that, teams will no longer be able to back off him with confidence like Kobe did.
...the Andrei Kirilenko experiment is working. I have dubbed this the Manu Ginobli effect, where a team takes one of its better players and plays him off the bench while taking one of their struggling players and surrounds him with talent. The Lakers are also doing it this season with Lamar Odom. Andrei popped off the bench and played with a fire that I haven't seen recently. He was starting to remind me of the Andrei I first remembered seeing, not so much with the stats, but with his drive and fire. He looks like he's happier in his body movement and his play. As long as he plays with that fire, the Jazz will be much better off, regardless of his total stats. When Andrei plays like this, teams get tepid around him.
...Boozer worked both ends. Speaking of fire, I think the questions and the limited play in the Olympics got to Boozer. People will complain that he still did not defend well, but I disagree. What maddened me about Boozer last season was his matador defense. Last night, I felt he fought more through screens. He worked trying to help defend and he came up with a huge block and what would have been a huge strip had it not been whistled egregiously. (I say this because I saw the play on both broadcasts and felt it was clean. Maybe a make-up call for Okur getting away with a hook on Kenyon Martin a few plays earlier? No one can say. I felt the refs did a hell of a good job last night regardless.) He also stepped up his offense with D-Will gone, and took it upon himself to attack. That was also missing from last year's playoffs. Hopefully he doesn't let his foot off the gas at either end during the season. For all that fans can say they want to replace or get rid of Boozer, we need him.
...the Jazz survived without D-Will. I was not impressed with the play of either Price or Knight last night. Price seemed uncomfortable at times in his starting role, though he did have five assists, while Knight looked caught between what he knew the Jazz wanted and what he'd done with other teams and only recorded two assists. Andrei at the point was an unmitigated disaster for the short period of time. I would rather he passed within the offense instead of dribbling and losing the ball. The Jazz also overcame sixteen turnovers. At times, they just looked sloppy with the ball and it nearly killed them. Thankfully, Deron should be back no later than Wednesday versus Portland, a team with its own issues and, even if it takes that long, the Jazz's next few games are both against the woeful Clippers.
...Denver looks to be fine without Camby. I know this is a Jazz article, but I can't leave off an important point from their rival's standpoint. Fans were already crowning the Jazz in Utah because a) Portland was a year away from dominance and b) Denver's defense got worse. Someone needs to put on the brakes after last night. Yes, the Nuggets lost their 'best' defensive player in Camby, but I argue that they are better defensively now for three reasons: Nene, Balkman, and expectations. The first two are easy, but the third is a bit tricky. The Nuggets no longer seemed to expect that if someone got free that Camby would just show and deal with the shot and because of it, they played better team defense without him. A tougher Nuggets team may just join with Portland to give the Jazz all they can handle.
So I am stoked for the season and I'm looking forward to another year of tension and fun in the West as the Jazz fight for positioning and homecourt and, one can dream, a shot at a championship again. For at least one game, one of many to come this season, I was back in fan mode. And it felt good.