- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Horny, as Hornacek is known even in straitlaced Utah, has exploited the new, drawn-in three-point line to punish defenders who linger in Stockton's passing lanes. From Dec. 30 to Jan. 11 he tied Scott Wedman's NBA record by hitting 11 consecutive three-point attempts; in November he had set a league record by making eight straight in a game against Seattle. "But to label him as just a three-point shooter would be unfair to him," says Stockton. "He's mentally tough, and he makes big plays."
Equally important, if less heralded, was the acquisition of much-traveled, 33-year-old forward Antoine (Big Dog) Carr, who signed as a free agent on Oct. 29. In Carr, a powerful post-up man with frantic moves around the blocks and a decent medium-range jumper, the Jazz has a slightly older and balder version of Malone. And the most surprising contributor has been the 6'9" Keefe, who in two seasons with the Hawks did not prosper as a strong forward among the strong egos of Atlanta. Sloan is remaking Keefe as a small forward, and when Benoit missed 11 games with an ankle injury, Keefe filled in impressively. In last week's game against Seattle, Keefe came off the bench in the third quarter and down the stretch scored 16 points while grabbing seven rebounds.
The best evidence that this Jazz team is more than three guys watching a clinic by Stockton and Malone is Utah's 8-0 record since Jan. 13—the day solid starting center Felton Spencer went down for the season with a torn left Achilles tendon. Last week Sloan juggled his lineup around former Dallas Maverick stalwart James Donaldson, who at age 37 was playing recreational basketball in Seattle when the Jazz signed him to a 10-day contract (since renewed). Donaldson, a 7'2" court-clogger, seems to have misplaced all his fast-twitch fibers, but he fit in immediately. Sloan started him against Dallas on Jan. 23 and Sacramento two days later, with Carr and Benoit backing him up. Whether such tactics will work against powerful and agile centers like Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon and San Antonio's David Robinson is questionable, and Jazz doubters are already reciting the mantra of past seasons: one player away.
"Well, you're never really one player away," Stockton says, "because you have to give up something to get something." This deep into the season, that is something Scott Layden, Utah's director of basketball operations, is reluctant to do for fear of disrupting the NBA's most harmonious roster. To a man these Jazz players paint their team portrait in shades of rose and peach. "It's like the old Celtics," says Keefe. "Nobody plays for statistics or for their contracts."
No one frets over the roster dilemma more than Sloan does. When asked before a recent practice if he feared another 50-plus-win season with no championship ring, he recalled his own career as an All-Star guard for the Chicago Bulls. "We won 50 games a year, three years in a row, and we never won a championship," he said. Almost savagely, he added, "It doesn't mean we're not going to do it."
At this point Sloan's is just a voice in the wilderness. But to watch his Jazz last week was to wonder if an old-fashioned, more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts basketball team might still be capable of winning it all. In the second quarter against Seattle, on a night when Malone seemed a step slower than All-Star forward Shawn Kemp (who is six years the Mailman's junior), Stockton fed Malone on one of those perfect pick-and-rolls they have executed countless times. Malone's dunk shook the basket and reminded the Sonics that you can, as the Mailman says, "be from the old school and get it done."
Sloan may be right: The world will little note nor long remember that the Jazz won 15 straight road games, or even more. But basketball purists care about the way Utah did it, because basketball played right—the way the Jazz has been playing it of late—is its own reward.