The last time the Utah Jazz were winning like this, John Stockton was running the pick-and-roll with Karl Malone, Jerry Sloan was hoping for a third straight NBA Finals appearance, and the NBA was picking up the pieces after a damaging lockout.
With the Jazz, the names change but the song remains the same.
Utah tries for its 13th consecutive victory Wednesday night in Atlanta. Other than the fact that I surely just jinxed them, Sloan's crew is beginning to look as dangerous as any Western Conference team as we trudge into the final quarter of the NBA season.
You heard me, Lakers. Beware of the workmanlike, no-frills version of basketball artistry that is quietly getting warmed up in a big way in Salt Lake City.
UPDATE: And of course, I jinxed them. The Jazz fell in the second game of a back-to-back in Atlanta, losing 100-93 to the Hawks.
The Jazz won 11 in a row from April 1-18 in 1999. If they keep it going Wednesday night, they'll head to Florida this weekend with a shot at equaling the franchise mark of 15 straight, achieved twice during the 1996-97 season -- which ended with their first of back-to-back Finals losses to Michael Jordan's Bulls.
That night in what used to be called the Delta Center 11 years ago -- when Jordan picked Malone's pocket, dribbled the other way, and politely shoved Bryon Russell to the floor on his way to immortality -- seems like yesterday. Hard to believe it's been that long since the Jazz were in the Finals. Is it premature to start thinking they could be on their way back?
I don't think it's crazy.
I understand that as the fourth or fifth seed -- Utah is currently fourth -- the road would be exceedingly difficult. Assuming the Jazz could get past likely first-round opponent Portland, they'd be on a collision course with Kobe & the Lakers in the second round. The Jazz are 1-1 against the Lakers this season, playing both games without Carlos Boozer, who is back with a vengeance after missing 44 games with a knee injury. But Utah is 3-6 against the Lakers the past three seasons, becoming road kill for Kobe. Bryant is averaging 34.4 points per game and shooting .532 against the Jazz in the regular season since 2006-07. Kobe also scored 30 or more in five of the six games in the Lakers' 4-2 series victory in the conference semifinals last year.
If the Jazz fail to get past Kobe again, it'll feel an awful lot like their failure to get past Jordan in the Finals more than a decade ago. But sometimes a top-seeded team that seems destined for the Finals gets derailed by a hot team nobody wants to see in the early rounds of the playoffs. It happened to Dallas against Golden State a couple of years ago, and it's not farfetched to wonder if the Jazz could be that team this year.