The Utah Jazz lost seven of their final nine games in the regular season, and two of those losses were to lottery-bound teams that they should have beaten handily.
This is the team that handed them their collective heads on a platter in the final regular-season game.
The Lakers couldn’t have made it any more easier for the Jazz to beat them. They handed Utah 47 free throw attempts. Forty-seven!
L.A. sat Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, and Trevor Ariza for a good portion of the game, and all the Lakers played except Adam Morrison.
Still, the Lakers won 125-112, and it wasn’t even that close.
You would think that Jerry Sloan would have some very unkind words for his players after such a disappointment. In a similar situation, most coaches would challenge their guys in public, embarrass them, call them out, and leave nothing behind closed doors.
But not Sloan. Instead of lighting a fire under his players, he may have been trying some reverse psychology by praising the Lakers to high heavens.
"It looks pretty bleak," said Sloan about Utah’s chances against the Lakers in Round One of the Western Conference Playoffs. "They have a terrific team. They have guys who can pass the ball, do about anything you ask a team to do. They've got guys who can make big shots, who just know how to play the game, make the game look simple."
"Simple"? Uh, Jerry, is that why it takes new players the better portion of a year to learn Phil Jackson’s triangle offense?
"We're just like a little dent in the road, far as they're concerned," Sloan continued. "They're very comfortable playing against us and obviously should be."
Oh, well, you might as well try reverse psychology, Jerry. You’ve tried everything else.
Or have you? What about getting physical in the paint, where the Lakers scored most of their points on Tuesday night?
"They're so much longer than we are, putting (Bynum) on the floor really gives them a lot of length," Sloan moaned.
It sounds like someone in Utah is playing possum. By setting up this media smokescreen, perhaps Sloan feels he can lull the Lakers into a false sense of security. After all, I’m sure he remembers how the one-seed Dallas Mavericks caved into the eight-seed Golden State Warriors a few years back.
Sloan may even be trying to inspire his squad by heaping all this praise on the Lakers and Bynum and calling Utah’s chances of winning the series "bleak."
But should Sloan’s reverse psychology fail and the Lakers come out with fire in their eyes, it is very good possibility that the Jazz will go down in flames. And Utah’s about-to-be Hall of Fame head coach could find himself on the hot seat.
You can be sure that where there is smoke, there is usually fire. And Sloan is already under fire from the Utah press. The writers who cover the Jazz are burning Sloan in the the media.
They have openly laid a good deal of the blame for Utah’s late-season demise squarely on Jerry’s shoulders. They claim that he hasn’t motivated his players over the past month and that some of his game decisions have been faulty.
Sloan, on the other hand, contends that he cannot motivate his players and that they must motivate themselves.
But members of the team are not quick to come to Sloan’s defense. As Matt Harpring put it:
"He's still the commander of the ship. He's in control. You can't let the inmates run the asylum."
The press affirms that Sloan should hold his players accountable and that Jazz management should hold Sloan accountable.
Will Mehmet Okur’s return to the lineup be enough to turn the tide in favor of the Jazz? With Andrew Bynum in the post for the Lakers, I doubt it very much.
And so does Sloan. When asked if there was a way that the Jazz could compete against Bynum, Sloan grinned and cracked, "Yeah, put him in a concrete stretcher. See if that makes our guys bigger."
Since the NBA probably has rules against concrete stretchers on the court, that doesn’t leave much except for Sloan’s smokescreen.
Do you smell something burning, Jerry? Uh, you’d better turn around.