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FACER 2 FACER: Is this year’s Jazz team better than the squad in 1997-98?

Editor’s Note: “This Is The Place Sports” founders Dirk and Austin Facer‚ father and son, provide a weekly opinion-based conversation on a sports topic. 

DIRK: Young buck, when will you learn? I don’t want to say I told you so, but I told you so about the Super Bowl. Older guys know how to get things done. Now I’m not saying the Karl Malone-John Stockton-Jeff Hornacek squad in their current state could beat Donovan Mitcher, Rudy Gobert and the guys. However, the Jazz of the past have a much stronger resume — back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals is quite an accomplishment.

That said, I’m sticking to my belief that the greatest Jazz team of all-time played during that era. After going 11-7 while Stockton recovered from knee surgery, the 1997-98 Jazz went 51-13 the rest of the way — finishing in a tie with the Chicago Bulls for the NBA’s best record. Two regular-season wins over the Bulls gave them home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

It came in handy in the opening round when the Jazz were pushed to five games by the Houston Rockets. They went to oust the San Antonio Spurs in five games before sweeping Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers to reach the finals once again. Although Michael Jordan and the Bulls ultimately prevailed, Utah did get there — twice with pretty much the same cast.

AUSTIN: To be clear, I certainly do treasure those old school Jazz teams. Hornacek was my childhood hero, as you know. I really should tell that story about the time he walked in and used the urinal next to me at a gas station in Nephi. That was awesome.

But anyways, back to the argument at hand. I really do think that this year’s Jazz team is much better than the one featured in ESPN’s The Last Dance. My main contention is that the game has progressed so much since the late-90s. Players nowadays are so much more skilled and athletic. I don’t think anyone could deny that. I mean there is no way a guy like Vancouver’s 1995 lottery pick Bryant “Big Country” Reeves could find his way onto the court in 2021. Look at this guy:

You really think Greg Ostertag could hang with Rudy Gobert? No chance. Could a 37-year-old John Stockton really put the clamps on Donovan Mitchell? I don’t see that happening either.

DIRK: Matchups are fun to discuss. Greg Ostertag probably couldn’t hang with Gobert and Mitchell might be too athletic to shut down. The current Jazz also shoot the 3-ball well and have a deep roster. Even so, who would stop the Mailman from delivering? Stockton and Hornacek, who were 37 and 36 years old by the time the season ended, were crafty until the end — using their smarts to maintain an advantage on the court. Then there was Jerry Sloan leading the way. These guys, including the 35-year-old Malone, managed to negate athleticism and the strengths of other teams. Over the two-year span that produced Western Conference championships, the Jazz went 126-38 in the regular season (62-9 after the all-star break. In 1996-97, they had a 15-game winning streak. These guys, obviously, could play and play well.

Until the current Jazz produce a similar or better resume, they’ll be considered good but not the greatest in team history. A championship would rectify that. For starters, though, these guys need to maintain their run with having the NBA’s best record. Postseason success, in the form of at least winning the West, should follow. The Jazz of the past, after all, did that. Now it’s time for the current team to match or exceed the accomplishments.

I wish them the very best in trying to do so.

AUSTIN: Let me just add one more reason why I think this year’s Jazz team could run Stockton and Malone off the floor.
I’ll start with a simple mathematic fact: 3 > 2. It was a revolution that Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors started about 5 years ago. Quin Snyder and the 2021 Jazz have mastered that philosophy.

Here’s a stat that will blow your mind: the ’97-’98 Jazz launched 8.2 attempts from beyond the arc per game. This year’s unit is firing up 42.5. Did you read that? That’s five times as many 3-point tries, by good shooters as well. In a head-to-head matchup, the boys in the striped City Edition jerseys that you hate so much would blow the fellas in the Mountain jerseys away and it wouldn’t even be close.

You’re right though, in the end, all anyone cares about are results. It’ll be up to this year’s Jazz squad to reach the NBA Finals and play well there or win before they can lay claim as the best Utah team ever.

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