Most Jazz players are new to playoffs

Most Jazz players are new to playoffs

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By DOUG ALDEN AP Sports Writer

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Jazz have had so much turnover since their last playoff appearance that this isn't exactly a return to the postseason for most of them.

Only six Utah players have been in the playoffs and just two have made it past the first round.

So experience, a staple during Utah's 20 straight playoff appearances, is something the Jazz lack entering their first-round series against the Houston Rockets.

"The atmosphere is completely different," forward Matt Harpring said. "The fans are crazy and teams are ready. They're geared up to play you every minute of the game."

So the seven players on the roster who will be making their playoff debut are in for surprises Saturday night when the series starts in Houston.

Utah hasn't been to the playoffs since 2003 and hasn't won a series since 2000.

Guard Derek Fisher and center Mehmet Okur are the only players who have been past the first round, both with other teams. Three years ago, Okur's Detroit Pistons beat Fisher and the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.

"As a competitor and as an athlete, you want that chance to be a champion every time you get it. Being in the playoffs gives you that chance," said Fisher, who won NBA titles with the Lakers in 2001 and 2002.

"It's exciting to have the opportunity again to be a champion," he said. "There's no greater feeling in sports than being the best."

Fisher has been in 117 playoff games. Okur is next with 39, although none as a starter. When added together, Harpring, Andrei Kirilenko, Jarron Collins and Gordan Giricek have been in 30 playoff games.

Coach Jerry Sloan has been telling his team since last fall how different the playoffs are from the regular season. And Sloan knows all about the playoffs.

Utah made the postseason in Sloan's first 15 seasons as coach, when he could rely on John Stockton and Karl Malone to lead younger players who hadn't been there before.

"We won some games when John and Karl were here, but we went through some tough times," Sloan said. "We learned some lessons because we fought back. If you don't fight back, you don't learn anything."

Sloan's first playoff team with the Jazz was swept by Golden State in the opening round in 1989. In the 1990s, the Jazz went to the Western Conference finals five times and won it twice.

With the lack of experience, the Jazz may be forced to learn quickly again.

"You don't realize how physical the games are sometimes. You think you do and then you find out you're not really that ready for it," Sloan said.

Two starters, point guard Deron Williams and forward Carlos Boozer, haven't been here before. Williams is in his second season, and Boozer's first four seasons in the league never lasted past 82 games.

On the bright side, both have played in the biggest game before going pro. Williams' last college game was the NCAA championship, when his Illinois team lost to North Carolina in 2005. Boozer won an NCAA championship with Duke in 2001.

"I'm super excited," Boozer said. "I'm like a 12-year-old kid at Christmas, so to speak, trying to see if Santa Claus is going to pop under that tree or not."

The Jazz have three rookies. Reserve center Rafael Araujo will also be making his playoff debut, along with second-year guard C.J. Miles.

Harpring said this younger version of the Jazz may have enough energy to overcome the initial adjustments when they face Houston's Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming in games that matter much more than the four regular-season meetings.

As their coach likes to say, the playoffs are a different game.

"It's been a little while -- since John and Karl for me," Harpring said. "And it's good we got back with kind of a new breed."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-04-19-07 1534MDT

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