It’s playoff time at the AT&T Center as you can hear cheers and screams from up above the arena. Fans are decorated in silver and black, as the San Antonio Spurs (50-16) will be squaring off against the Utah Jazz (36-30) for a noon tip-off game. Both teams will be making some changes to their starting lineups, as the Jazz add some experience, while the Spurs add one more Frenchmen.
“We’re going to start Josh instead of DeMarre,” said Jazz head coach Ty Corbin before the game. Former Dallas Mavericks forward Josh Howard, who dueled for several seasons against the Spurs in the mid-2000s, will get the start for the Jazz instead of the younger DeMarre Carroll. Coach Corbin said the coaching staff made the decision because of Howard’s past experience in the playoffs, specifically against the Spurs.
The Spurs will also be making a starting lineup change, as Boris Diaw, will be starting in place of DeJuan Blair. Head coach Gregg Popovich pointed to Diaw’s underrated defensive ability as key element in why Diaw has moved into the starting lineup.
Gary Neal, who suffered a stinger before the last two games of the season last week, is ready to play as he sat watching video in the locker room. Coach Popovich also confirmed Neal is ready to play.
For Coach Corbin, this is his first time in the NBA playoffs as a head coach, “It’s getting a little more intense,” said Corbin, “I’m excited but nervous at the same time.”
For Corbin, there’s some key areas that the Jazz must stay efficient in to have a chance at getting a win against the Spurs, “We’ve got to make them respect our halfcourt sets,” said Corbin, “we have to make sure we fan out to their shooters.”
Coach Popovich on the other hand, has been to the playoffs through the majority of his head-coaching career, he said the shift from being a dominant defensive team to becoming a potent offensive team began about two and a half years ago.
One reason the Spurs’ offense is so dominant this season, the play of MVP-level point guard Tony Parker. Coach Popovich indicated why Parker has been playing on another level this season, “He had a great summer with the French team,” said Popovich, “that combined with a poor performance against Memphis,” is what Popovich indicated of how well Parker has been playing this season. Popovich said that before the season began, Parker sat him down and told him about the kind of season he wanted to have.
For the Spurs, keeping the Jazz off glass will be a major focal point. “The board is huge for them,” said Popovich.
And finally, I asked Coach Popovich if rookie Kawhi Leonard was showing any kind of nervous emotions coming into his first playoff game, Coach Popovich said he didn’t know because Leonard is always quiet and reserved.
“He just plays and goes home,” said Popovich.