SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—The Utah Jazz have home-court advantage in the second round of the playoffs and very little time to celebrate getting it. The second round, and the Golden State Warriors, will come at them quickly.
The Jazz advanced by beating the Houston Rockets in Game 7 on Saturday night, giving them less than two days to prepare to host Game 1 on Monday night.
“I think it will be a very tough matchup for us because it’s quite opposite team than Houston,” Utah forward Andrei Kirilenko said at practice Sunday. “Golden State will run and we’ll play catch the rabbit.”
Now, focusing on only two players in Houston’s Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming doesn’t seem like such a huge task. The Warriors will be well rested and ready to run again after upsetting the Dallas Mavericks in six games.
Golden State has been off since Thursday. The Jazz, meanwhile, had to fly home from Houston, get a little rest early Sunday and practice in the afternoon.
The short turnaround could actually benefit Utah. Coach Jerry Sloan doesn’t let his players dwell very long on any accomplishments, even coming back from a 2-0 series deficit and winning Game 7 on the road 103-99.
Sloan let them have a little fun late Saturday, but by Sunday was back to his usual level of gruffness.
“They jumped around for a little bit, but it’s a young team. They haven’t been in that situation. Some of that enthusiasm is what gave them a chance to win the ballgame,” Sloan said.
The Warriors and Jazz split the four games this season, with the home team winning each time. Utah is unbeaten at home in the playoffs, but that isn’t likely to faze the Warriors, who scored one of the biggest playoffs upsets ever by knocking out the 67-win Mavericks in the opening round.
Players from both teams had similar things to say about the series during light practices Sunday. The talk was of confidence and momentum, putting the first-round success behind them and facing a well-balanced opponent that doesn’t rely on one or two players.
“They have a lot of versatility,” Warriors guard Baron Davis said. “That’s what makes them scary. They can play different positions. We have to be more physical.”
Golden State is the first No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 since the opening round expanded to best-of-seven in 2003. Although the Warriors are still the lower seed in the second round against the Jazz, few are looking at them as underdogs.
“I’m not sure that we’re darlings,” Warriors coach Don Nelson said Sunday before a light practice at the team’s training facility. “People are interested in our team because we play well and play good basketball. And we’re a little different. We’ve kind of caught everybody’s eye and I hope we don’t disappoint them.”
Davis didn’t participate in Sunday’s practice, giving his ailing right hamstring another day of rest.
Sloan said Davis can break down any player in the league and that the Mavericks have the perfect lineup for Nelson, one of just three coaches with more NBA victories than Sloan.
“They’re not going to sit around and wait for you to run the floor because they’ll either be dunking it or shooting 3-point shots,” Sloan said.
Utah kept McGrady and Yao from getting many transition points in the first round. The Rockets also struggled from the floor, but the Warriors made 46 percent from the field and 37 percent of their 3-pointers during the opening round.
“We’re as dangerous as we want to be. It’s really up to us and how we approach each and every game and each and every situation,” Davis said.
Golden State also averaged 105.2 points in the first round—more than the Jazz or Rockets ever scored in their seven-game series. Utah was the only team to break 100 in any of the games, doing it Saturday to clinch the series in the Jazz’s first road playoff victory since 2002.
Both teams can claim confidence and momentum from winning in the first round.
“It helps when you take steps in the right direction and you show and prove that you can do things that maybe you hadn’t done before, maybe that you weren’t sure that you could do,” Fisher said. “We accomplished some of those things in the first round and hopefully we can build on it.”