Boozer ready for the noise and all that Jazz


Feb 9

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There is a curious dichotomy about Salt Lake City like few places in the U.S. It is known as the base of the Mormon religion, and there doesn’t seem a more wholesome place. There’s a lovely outdoor ice skating rink in the middle of the pristine downtown where couples young and old, hand in hand, glide along to classic ballads. People smile and say hello, look you in the eye and seem truly pleased you are in their home.

And then you go to a Utah Jazz game and it’s something of a Stepford families where whistles are going off in the stands, referees are baited, ugly signs decrying the opposition are everywhere, the noise and tasteless chants shake the arena, like when Derek Fisher returned after leaving to get cancer treatments for his child and he was taunted about that or when Kobe first came back after his sexual assault episode and he was vilified with ugly, sexually suggestive threats.

And so Wednesday, Salt Lake City gets ready to “welcome back” Carlos Boozer, the one time basketball savior who was to replace Karl Malone, but who missed more games in a month than Malone missed in a career, who engaged and disengaged just as quickly, who was vilified the popular late owner Larry Miller for what Miller called the dumbest comments he could imagine, who spent two seasons talking about wanting to leave while never quite fulfilling the promises of the Malone/Stockton era and leaving the Jazz currently struggling to make the playoffs in the Western Conference.

“I’m not worried, I’m looking forward to it,” Boozer told a large group of Utah reporters after Bulls practice Tuesday. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Asked about being booed, Boozer quipped, “It’s all Booz to me.

“It’s going to be a fun night,” insisted Boozer through a pasted on smile. “I miss my teammates, coach (Jerry) Sloan. It’s a great environment. I grew up here a lot in the NBA. It’s great to come back and see so many friendly faces. I saw Memo (Mehmet Okur), Ty Corbin. There’s a lot of memories.

“Me and Kyle (Korver) and Ronnie (Brewer) talked about it flying in (Tuesday) morning,” said Boozer. “Instead of going to our houses, we are going to a hotel. It does feel weird. No, I had a great time when I was here, great memories. The fans were great to me. We had some great teams. We competed for a title and fell short, but there are great memories.”

Boozer would soon sign off, seemingly unfazed by the whole thing. Though teammates said Boozer has been talking about how much he wants this game, and on the other side it’s a community that seems ready to come for the Boozer they grew to revile.

Boozer was to wake up Wednesday morning to a Salt Lake City Tribune story saying the Bulls never will win a championship because of Boozer, that they would come to regret his presence because he is all about himself and encouraging the good local folk to let it out and boo Boozer.

Yes, welcome back old friend. A community is ready to take you to its bosom. And give you a noogie.

“Little do they know the haters motivate guys like me,” says Boozer. “I take that stuff in stride and use it as fuel. Hate on me? Oh, I get motivated and that’s that.”

So Boozer should have an awful lot of motivation at an awfully important time for his team.

You see, the Bulls have bigger issues than the reception for Boozer.

They’ve been mostly awful in losing the last two games, giving up an average of 105 per game on 50 percent shooting to the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trailblazers. They were dominated by Monta Elis and then LaMarcus Aldridge, unable to play in transition, being beaten in fast break points, scoring fewer assists, hardly any blocks and giving up an average of more than 30 points in the fourth quarters of both games.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is stressing defense, suggesting it’s merely a temporary breakdown needing a slight midcourse correction of improved effort and determination.

The Bulls had a long film and practice session Tuesday, and Thibodeau focused, essentially, on the principles the Bulls seemed to have abandoned: Protecting the paint, pushing the pick and roll to the baseline, finishing with a hand in someone’s face, getting back in transition, matching up, the simple elements that tied together that, despite a lack of great individual defensive talent, made the Bulls the league’s No. 1 defensive team. Until this week as they were passed by Miami.

“The big thing is defense,” said Thibodeau. “We have to change it. We played defense well for most of the year. The last two games we’ve made strictly an offensive contest. I like our offense; we’re scoring well. But we’re not guarding.

“We’re not playing with the same edge we had earlier,” said Thibodeau. “We’ve got to get that edge back. The way we play defense is five guys tied together. If one guy is breaking down (say not helping on a pick and roll), then everyone is going to look bad. It’s not any particular aspect. It’s almost every aspect: floor balance by guards, not protecting the basket, big guys not sprinting back, pick and roll defense, low post catch and shoot defense. We covered it all.”

Still, Thibodeau is not hitting the panic button quite yet. He looks at the season in segments of 10 games and feels over the last 10 it’s just been the last two for a letdown. Teams have such lapses during the season in their defense. The Celtics did as well when he was there. But it’s getting it back.

But Thibodeau also knows the race is too volatile to wait too long.

“It’s a collective thing now,” said Thibodeau. “We’re not doing what we should be doing.”

Thibodeau said he’s not contemplating any changes in lineup or rotation, and is sticking with the basic scheme for now. He just feels it’s more commitment than mechanics.

“I’m not going to sit and watch for too long,” he warned.

Though it’s not like given Thibodeau’s philosophies there are many options. He doesn’t particularly like to double or front the post, two defensive options the Bulls have used in the past. There was a little bubble up Tuesday over comments attributed to Portland’s Nicholas Batum after Monday’s loss that Derrick Rose was a great offensive player but a lousy defensive player and that’s how Portland was able to beat the Bulls.

Batum did a retreat worthy of the French army Tuesday from that one, saying he was misquoted and what he really said was making Rose work on defense was just part of the scheme. Thibodeau came to Rose’s defense and said Rose has played good defense this season, and the Bulls did get a laugh out of it because Batum started against Rose and had to be lifted after a few plays as Rose raced around and by him like he wasn’t there. There also was a lot of suspicion it all was fed by former Bulls assistants Bernie Bickerstaff and Bob Ociepka, who are on Portland’s staff and didn’t leave under the best of circumstances after Vinny Del Negro was fired.

There was a lot of talk, meanwhile, about Rose against Deron Williams, generally regarded the top two points guards in the NBA today. Having played with both, the former Jazz players were asked about them.

Brewer, who said he talked with Thibodeau about his missed dunks the last two games and apologized and said he knows he might have cost the team the games, called Rose, “the fastest, most athletic guard (who can) finish at the rim better than any guard in the game.” He likened Williams to a great NFL quarterback who threw the ball before you ever went into your break and when you got there the ball was there.

“D. Will is the ultimate floor general,” said Brewer. “He’d know where guys were going to be even before they got there. I’d look up and the ball was in my hands.”

Boozer said Rose is one of the top five or six scorers in the NBA every game and Williams has the best vision in the league. Everyone agreed they are vastly different personalities, Williams more outspoken but both leaders.

“I’m telling you guys,” said Boozer. “Be there. It’s going to be one hell of a point guard matchup. Don’t miss it.”

And Salt Lake City also doesn’t want to miss the Booz.

“The (reception) should be good,” Korver hoped. “Carlos had some great years here. He helped the team win a lot of games. When he first came here the team was not looking too good. I hope people remember that and not some comments in the newspapers he slipped up on.”

It’s generally regarded in such situations either the player has a monster effort or collapses under the weight of the moment. Boozer is quietly busting over the anticipation. The Bulls could use that kind of attitude from him—and his teammates—about now.

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