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New Kids Can’t Stay With Spurs

By Patrick Kinahan

The match-up couldn’t be more one-sided, a nucleus of champions against an inexperienced group whose veterans haven’t been there before in their current roles.

No wonder the results were predictable. To the surprise of no one, the San Antonio Spurs beat the visiting Jazz 106-91 in the first game of the Western Conference playoffs.

Except for Devin Harris, the Jazz are a bunch of newbies when it comes to these playoffs. Several of the players, such as Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, have tasted the postseason before, but not as such integral parts of the team.

“We’re learning on the fly,” Millsap admitted.

The Spurs – particularly Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili – hail for the short-shorts era, or so it seems. They own squatter’s rights at a place the Jazz someday hope to be fortunate enough to visit.

For now, this is a mismatch, otherwise known as conference’s No. 1 seed vs. the No. 8. On this Sunday in Texas, the Jazz would have needed a miracle to pull off the upset.

“It’s just one game,” Harris said.

For 48 minutes, Harris’s statement is true. Big picture-wise, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Jazz have nothing to draw from. The regular season, in which the Jazz exceeded the expectations of most, is only a footnote now. Nobody cares that the Jazz beat the Lakers in Los Angeles six weeks ago.

The Spurs can draw from a wealth of experiences that is literally unmatched by any other NBA team. Other teams have won multiple NBA championships, but no other team currently in the playoffs has the motivation the Spurs have.

After 66 games worth of formality, the Spurs are looking for redemption. Last year’s stunning playoff defeat as a No. 1 seed to No. 8 seed Memphis is still fresh on their minds. For them, the playoff exit seems like yesterday.

Even if they tried to forget it, Gregg Popovich wouldn’t let them. Parker admitted as much after the game, saying the Spurs coach reminded him of it during a visit over the summer when Parker was playing for his national team.

Popovich thought Parker played harder for the national team than in the playoffs against the Grizzlies. Parker disagrees, and even more importantly, wants to prove it. Credit the coach for pushing the right buttons.

“Everybody knows what happened last year,” Parker said. “Everybody is motivated.”

The point guard position is the one spot the Jazz can come close to matching San Antonio’s experience. The only problem is they can’t match the talent.

Late in the game, as Parker stood at the free throw line, the San Antonio crowd chanted what has become the trite phrase of MVP. While that honor will go to LeBron James, the French import belongs in the discussion.

Parker was the best player on the floor, tallying 28 points and eight assists. And if Duncan and Ginobili weren’t living up to their reputations, the role players were providing huge contributions.

“They just know what it takes to put you away,” said Jazz coach Ty Corbin. “They don’t just play guys. The guys they put on the floor are very effective at what they do.”

The Jazz can’t say the same thing. In somewhat of a surprise move, Corbin started Josh Howard in place of DeMarre Carroll.

Howard has the edge in experience over Carroll, but the move backfired. Playing in his second game after missing 19 due to injuries, Howard was ineffective in 16 minutes.

“I thought his experience would help in the playoffs,” Corbin said.

But like his players, Corbin has little to draw from when it comes to the playoffs. Corbin coached his first playoff game Sunday. Popovich coached his first playoff game in 1998.

“It was a learning experience for us,” said Jefferson.

And hopefully like the Spurs, eventually they’ll figure it out.