The Swan Song in Jazz Minor

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services 

The Jazz turned out not to have enough air in their trumpets for the postseason and in their finale encore game, they just wanted to go out on a winning note. Unfortunately, Phoenix was singing a different tune. The Jazz's unfinished symphony ended on a minor chord as the Suns beat them 89-84. Both lottery-bound teams are done for the season.

Rookie Raul Lopez played a great game, possibly the best of his career, as he scored 25 points on 7-for-11 shooting including 3-for-5 from downtown. He did it in just 31 minutes of action. He also had five assists, two boards, and two steals. He and Raja Bell are the only Jazzmen to have played all 82 games this season. Jarron Collins was available for all 82 games as well, but he did not play in one due to a coach's decision.

The Utah Jazz fans are probably the happiest fans in the world despite the swan song of their heroes. They saw their team end the season a winning team, and though the playoffs were not to be, that in itself may have a silver lining. If the Jazz were in the playoffs, their accomplishments so far would be diminished. As it stands, ending the season couple of games out of contention but still with a winning record, when most people predicted they would be terrible, is not so bad.

Jazz fans were treated to excitement nightly from this franchise, all season long. Their home record was 28-13, a remarkable achievement. If seedings were based on home court records only, Utah would be in the playoffs. Not only that, but they would be the 12th best team in the league. You can tell how hungry Jazz fans are for news of their team: just look below at how many news items were generated from their final regular season game.

Their accomplishment this season is the stuff legends are born of. The young Jazz players are now hungry for the playoffs and will come out next year singing a marching-band song and improvising along the way. Their offseason will see Matt Harpring and Curtis Borchardt heal, and possible free agent acquisitions come in.

The Jazz will be ready in the fall.

The Utah Jazz finished the 2003-04 season with a 42-40 record, seventh place in the Midwest division.

Greg Ostertag becomes a free agent on July 1. What will happen to his nine-year career with the Jazz? "I don't want to talk about that right now," Ostertag told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Will Jerry Sloan return for an even sweeter 17th season? He doesn't know yet either.

Gordan Giricek missed a free throw off a technical foul, ending his streak of made free throws at 33.

Phil Miller ofThe Salt Lake Tribunenotes: Over the past 21 years, the Jazz have the second-best regular-season record in the NBA. They are 1,053-637. Only the Lakers' record of 1,134-586 is better.

Tim Buckley ofThe Deseret News notes: Even though the 42-40 Jazz did not qualify for the postseason, they did finish above .500 — making it a clean sweep of winning records for Midwest Division clubs. The last time each team in the same division wound up that way was 1982-83, when everyone in the Atlantic was above .500. Not everyone made it into the playoffs that season, either, as Washington failed to qualify at 42-40.

The Jazz will hold tryouts for the 2004-05 NuSkin Jazz Dancers on Saturday, July 31, 2004 at the Zions Bank Basketball Center in Salt Lake City.


Phil Miller ofThe Salt Lake Tribunewrites:At the end of a rookie season that many thought would never happen, Raul Lopez nearly rallied the Jazz to an improbable victory.Lopez scored a career-high 25 points on 7-for-11 shooting Wednesday night, but Phoenix held on for an 89-84 victory at the Delta Center. Thanks to Lopez, Utah overcame a 16-point deficit in the second half and took the lead in the final minutes. Although the Suns won, Lopez's performance capped a year of good health and on-the-court growth for the Jazz's first-round draft pick in 2001. "I'm happy for him," coach Jerry Sloan said. "He played extremely well." Lopez's first year in the NBA was delayed by two major knee surgeries, but he did not miss a game this season, averaging 7.0 points and 3.7 assists in 19.7 minutes in Utah's three-quarterback rotation. I'm proud right now -- that I could play 82 games," Lopez said. "That was my goal." "I don't know if people know how obsessed he is about playing this game," Sloan said. "Sometimes we tell him, 'Take some time off. . . . Go to a movie or something.' He says, 'Fine, but as soon I come out of the movie, I will want to play basketball.' That's just the way he is."

Linda Hamilton ofThe Deseret Morning News writes: Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller was his tearful self in thanking fans and sponsors for their interest and loyalty via the public address system at midcourtprior to Wednesday's season finale in the Delta Center. But he is less despondent than one might think over missing the playoffs for the first time in more than 20 years. "We'd still like to have been there," Miller said. "It's kind of a hollow feeling. It's my 19th season, and it's the first time we have not gone to the playoffs. But I look at our expectations starting out, other people's expectations of us, and where we are, and it's pretty hard to feel bad about the effort." The Jazz, who finished 42-40 after losing 89-84 to Phoenix, quadrupled the number of wins some said they'd have in preseason predictions.

Tim Buckley ofThe Deseret Morning Newswrites: Eliminated from postseason contention at Minnesota on Monday night, Wednesday night's game against Phoenix amounted to little more than business the Jazz were required to finish. But before he addressed its outcome — an 89-84 Suns win at the Delta Center — and the conclusion of Utah's first NBA season without a playoff appearance after 20 straight with one, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan had some unfinished business of his own to discuss. "I apologized to our players (for saying after) the game we had up in Minnesota . . . they were not trying to win a ballgame," Sloan said after Wednesday's loss. "I was wrong for that . . . I was wrong for saying what I did."

Brad Rock ofThe Deseret Morning News writes: The season out of nowhere ended for the Jazz the way everyone expected last fall — with a loss. But it also ended in a way no one could have expected six months ago — with cheers. As the Jazz left the Delta Center after an 89-84 loss to Phoenix, Wednesday, the fans stood and applauded. Not polite, patronizing cheers, either, but calls of appreciation. It ended with signs saying, "Jerry's Kids play hard! Go Jazz" and "Thanks for a great year. You guys are FUN!"It ended with the fans on their feet in the waning minutes, hoping for one last chance to be surprised. 

Loren Jorgensen ofThe Deseret Morning News writes: The Utah Jazz rallied in the second half but still couldn't beat the Phoenix Suns in the Delta Center on Wednesday night. The 89-84 setback marked the 21st straight year the Jazz finished the season with a loss. But there was one major difference. This was the first time during that decades-long streak that the final loss of the season didn't come in the playoffs.Utah finished the year with back-to-back defeats. Still, the crowd at the sold-out Delta Center seemed to appreciate the scrappy team that achieved a winning season, which almost nobody thought possible when the season began.

Tim Buckley ofThe Deseret Morning News writes: Each offseason in recent years past, Jerry Sloan has returned home to his Illinois farm and pondered the prospects of coming back to Utah for another season as head coach of the Jazz. Each time, he has. On one hand, this summer will be like all the rest. On the other, it will be unlike any he has experienced. Sloan's wife, Bobbye, is in a fight for her life with cancer of the pancreas. That fact, the 16-year Jazz coach suggested before working his final game of the 2003-04 NBA season, will have an impact on whether or not he returns for season No. 17. "This is different, because I don't know what tomorrow will bring," Sloan said. "I mean, she's done pretty good. She's hanging in there real good. "But I'm gonna be there for her as much as I can," he added, "and try to help her." If Bobbye has her way, Sloan will extend his reign as the coach (or manager) tenured longer with the same team than any other in major American professional sports.She wants him to return, and Sloan made as much known in a just-held meeting with Jazz basketball operations senior vice president Kevin O'Connor.

Tom McEachin ofThe Ogden Standard-Examiner writes: The Jazz hit the wire on an 82-game schedule Wednesday night with three players who were there the whole way.Raja Bell and Raul Lopez played in every game this season, and Jarron Collins was in uniform for all 82, although coach Jerry Sloan chose not to use him in one game. For Lopez and Collins, that was an extraordinary accomplishment, coming off major knee injuries.

Randy Hollis ofThe Ogden Standard-Examiner writes: Utah's front-office personnel were already busy preparing for the team's postseason media guide before the Jazz were eliminated from playoff contention with Monday's loss at Minnesota.Now, the front-office folks will turn their attentions to the upcoming lottery, the annual NBA draft, the Rocky Mountain Revue Summer League and potential free-agent signings.

Tom McEachin ofThe Ogden Standard-Examiner writes: If Raul Lopez picks up next season where he left off Wednesday night, he can look forward to bright days ahead.Lopez played the best game of his young NBA career, scoring 25 points to stand out in an 89-84 season-ending loss to the Phoenix Suns at the Delta Center. The game that had the last-day-of-school feel to it as a couple of last-place teams closed out the season, but the Jazz seemed a lot more interested when Lopez was on the court. "I thought he played hard," coach Jerry Sloan said of Lopez. "He's had a little bit of a problem wondering whether or not he belonged, and he belongs in this league."