Utah Jazz have impressive season

Don’t look now, but the Utah Jazz are on the verge of doing something special.

In the midst of a crazy playoff race, the Jazz have found a way to stay alive. Week in and week out, the undeniable Jazz have fought back regardless of the odds they were fighting.

Strong with the pride of their fearless leader, Jerry Sloan, our group of misfits has pulled together what could fairly be defined as the finest season in Jazz history. Sure, the playoff runs of the late ’90s were great, but Sloan’s coaching job this year has been nothing short of spectacular.

The Jazz have found a way to overcome the loss of the team’s best scorer, Matt Harpring, as well as innumerable injuries to every big man on the squad. This conglomeration of nobodies has been turning heads all season, and were it not for the amazing coaching effort of Hubie Brown with the Memphis Grizzlies, Sloan would be a shoe-in for Coach of the Year.

Without a superstar on the roster (no offense to Andrei Kirilenko), the Jazz have accomplished the unexpected. At the beginning of the year, virtually every major sports information service predicted the Jazz to finish in last place-not just last in the Western Conference, but dead last in the entire league. Keep in mind, these dreadful preseason rankings all assumed that the Jazz would have Harpring in action, and as we all know, he only played about thirty games before he went down for the year.

Now that the Jazz are tied for eighth in the powerful Western Conference, the sports info services are eating their words. At last check ESPN.com’s power ranking system has the Jazz ranked No. 11, while CBS.Sportsline.com had the Jazz ranked No. 18-a far cry from the last-place predictions of last summer.

This year’s group has not only exceeded all expectations, but they have also treated us to some of the most exciting moments in recent memory. Whether it was the overtime victory in the Delta Center against the Toronto Raptors several months ago (the Raptors overcame a five-point deficit in five seconds to take the game to overtime), or Carlos Arroyo’s last second shot to beat the Nuggets just a few weeks ago, this team has found a way to thrill us time and time again.

Now, with just two games left in the regular season, the Jazz are on the verge of making the playoffs for an incredible twenty-first consecutive appearance. And, as this season has taught us, the reason is Jerry Sloan. As the head coach of the Jazz, he has never missed the playoffs. He has managed to keep the Jazz competitive; regardless of how few talented athletes the front office will give him.

Sloan is a fighter, and while many Jazz fans might have preferred to miss the playoffs this year in favor of a lottery pick, Sloan’s ‘never-say-die’ attitude and his commitment to winning have never kept the Jazz in the hunt all year. I think I’ve read at least five columns in the past few months, from local and national services, all of which said the Jazz were out of it, regardless of the fact that they have been in contention all year.

And yet, here we are, in the thick of a playoff race with the Portland Trailblazers and the Nuggets.

The Nuggets beat the Blazers on Saturday night, so they are likely out of the hunt with games remaining against the San Antonio Spurs and the L.A. Lakers. The Nuggets hold the tie-breaker over the Jazz because they beat the Jazz three out of four times this year, but with games remaining against the Spurs and the Sacramento Kings, the Nuggets’ will be hard pressed to score even one more win.

The Jazz still have to face the Minnesota Timberwolves on the road, and we can’t expect them to win that game, but after that they will likely have a one game shot at making the playoffs as they face the Phoenix Suns at home in the last game of the regular season.

Let’s just hope it’s not their last game of the year. There have been a lot of great home games for the Jazz this year, but the Suns game is one I wouldn’t want to miss for the world.

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