SAN ANTONIO (AP)—After the drama both on and off the court that the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs faced during the Western Conference semifinals, the teams are looking forward to just playing the game.
And getting reacquainted in the postseason. The teams last met in the playoffs in 1998, when the Jazz eliminated San Antonio on their way to the NBA finals, where they lost to Chicago.
“We are two teams that try to do the same thing, just put the ball in, play from the inside out, when we have the opportunity we are going to run,” Spurs star Manu Ginobili said. “It’s going to be fun with a lot of good plays and tough possessions, hard to score. So, we’ll see what happens.”
Game 1 of the best-of-seven series to decide the West is Sunday in San Antonio.
“They don’t make any mistakes,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “They’re terrific. They do a great job. Their coach does a great job with them. They’ve got everything you want.”
The 1998 playoffs were the last time the Jazz made it to the conference finals. The Spurs won the conference finals in 1999, 2003 and 2005 and went on to win the championship all three times. In 2001 they made it to the conference finals, but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The teams split the season series 2-2, with each team winning its two home games. The Jazz have lost their last 16 games in San Antonio, dating to 1999.
“We try to change history. We go down there with the mind-set that what happened before is behind us,” Utah’s Carlos Boozer said. “We’re obviously a different team than a lot of those losses. … We’re looking forward to making some new history, hopefully.”
The Spurs’ series with the Suns was marked by rough play that resulted in one bloodied and bruised eye for Ginobili and six stitches to close a gash across the nose for the Suns’ Steve Nash. Nash also went tumbling into the scorer’s table at the end of Game 4 after a flagrant foul from Robert Horry. The incident resulted in a two-game suspension for Horry and a one-game suspension for the Suns’ Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for leaving the bench during the minor scuffle.
Hostile words also were exchanged as Stoudemire early on called the Spurs a “dirty team” and targeted Bruce Bowen and Ginobili in particular.
For the Jazz, there were family concerns off the court that made news during their series with the Warriors. Derek Fisher arrived late during Utah’s Game 2 overtime win after flying in from a New York hospital, where he was present for his 10-month-old daughter’s cancer treatment.
Fisher said his daughter, Tatum, who was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a cancerous tumor in her left eye, is doing well now and improves with each day.
“To be honest, I really haven’t been able to enjoy it much,” Fisher said Saturday of Utah’s playoff run. “Right now, we’re dealing with a lot personally so it’s kept me in a really kind of cautiously optimistic state.”
The Jazz last played Tuesday, while the Spurs didn’t eliminate Phoenix until Friday night, giving them just one full day of recovery time before Sunday afternoon’s matchup.
“We understand we’re fortunate to be in this position,” Bowen said Saturday. “I think a lot of people would rather take this position than complain about fatigue at this point.”
Bowen said rebounding will be a key for the Spurs.
“We’ve had some games against them where we didn’t rebound particularly well and because of that they got a late 3 and we don’t win the game,” said Bowen, who was second for Defensive Player of the Year behind Denver’s Marcus Camby. “So it’s very important for us to make sure we get in there and try to mix it up with those big bodies.”
The Jazz have averaged 46.5 rebounds during the playoffs, eight more than their opponents, while the Spurs have averaged 41 rebounds a game, with their opponents grabbing 41.5 boards per game.
“We just hope our team defense can be good enough,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “It’s not an individual thing with Utah. The team has to be able to guard.”
The Jazz will have to work to contain Tim Duncan, who was a consistent offensive and defensive force for San Antonio during the series with Phoenix. Duncan has averaged almost 24 points, more than 12 rebounds and better than 3 1/2 blocks during the playoffs.
“He’s so skilled. … He has every move on the block in the post. He’s probably the best post player we have in the game,” Boozer said. “As a competitor you want challenges. And what better challenge in basketball than for a power forward to go up against Tim Duncan.”
AP Sports Writer Doug Alden contributed to this report from Salt Lake City.