Jazz miss out on this year's playoffs as NBA torch is passed

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Posted Thursday, April 22, 2004 - 12:00am

Throughout the NBA season the Utah Jazz have been turning heads one upset at a time. However, for the Jazz the NBA spotlight never managed to make its way to Salt Lake City. Instead the basketball world has focused its attention on two once remote basketball destinations: Cleveland, Ohio and Denver, Colorado. That is because of LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets, two teenage NBA stars that have dominated their elder competition in a way the league had yet to see prior to their arrival.

James was the first selection in the 2003 NBA draft after foregoing a collegiate career for the opportunity to play professionally. The annual entry of players directly from high school is a trend that began back in the mid- 1990's when current NBA superstars like Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant made the transition. However, for players like Garnett and Bryant, who are now successful in the NBA, the road to superstardom was initially slow and unpromising. Additionally, for every high-school-to- the-pros success story there is excess of players that don't succeed and find themselves out of job and an income.

But for James who has been nicknamed "The chosen one", the move to the NBA appeared simple. He began by scoring 25 points in a nationally televised game against perennial NBA powerhouse Sacramento Kings in his first game. He went on to average 20.9 points 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game. He became just the third NBA rookie to average more than 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists, joining legendary company in NBA greats Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan.

Interestingly, three CEU players have played against LeBron James. Tay Matthews, Robert Young, and Jeremy Atwater competed against James in high school while playing for an all-star traveling team in their hometown of Las Vegas. The Vegas trio and their team would go on to lose a close game to James and his all-star team. James finished with an impressive 34-point performance. Matthews commented, "You could see back then that [LeBron] was a special player. Even while he was in high school when we played against him you could predict that he would play in the NBA. So it doesn't really surprise me that he's had this level of success."

James' team the Cleveland Cavaliers fell just a couple of wins shy of making the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs. They finished the season with a 35-47 record, a vast improvement from their 17-65 mark in 2003.

Similarly to James, Carmelo Anthony has exhibited unprecedented success in his rookie campaign. Anthony led the Denver Nuggets to their first playoff berth in nine years. The clinching of the final Western Conference playoff spot by the Nuggets marks the first time the Utah Jazz will be absent from the playoffs in 20 years, a streak that dates back to the 1982-83 season before the John Stockton and Karl Malone era.

Anthony was the third selection in the 2003 NBA draft. He arrived on the NBA scene after leading Syracuse University to its first college basketball national championship. In the 2003 NCAA Final Four Anthony was the third freshman to ever be named Final Four MVP.

His entry to the NBA was as dynamic as James'. His unique scoring prowess accompanied by his exuberant persona has made Anthony a fan favorite and a media darling nationwide. This season Anthony averaged 21.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and played in all 82 games for the Nuggets who finished the season with a record of 43-39, a 26 game win improvement from last season. Denver clinched a playoff berth by winning back-to-back games against the Portland Trailblazers and the Sacramento Kings. Anthony led the way by scoring thirty plus points in each game and made critical shots down the stretch of both wins.

The Nuggets will face the Western Conference's number one seeded Minnesota Timber wolves in the opening round of the post season.

Despite being an obvious underdog, don't be eager to count out the Nuggets. In the 1995 playoffs Denver became the first number eight seed to defeat a number one seed when they upset the Seattle Supersonics. The Nuggets are hoping for history to repeat itself in this year's post-season.

As for the Utah Jazz, the season was not a disappointment. Considering prior to the season the Jazz were expected to finish at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. In addition to winning 42 games and finishing the season with a winning percentage of over .500, the Jazz developed an NBA all-star in forward Andrei Kirilenko. The demise of the Jazz's playoff run may be credited to their dismal 1-3 record against the Nuggets. Had the Jazz been able to win just one of the three games in which they lost to the Nuggets, it would have been the Jazz in the playoffs in place of the Nuggets. Instead, the season has come to an end for the Jazz and their fans, and now the wait is on until the Jazz return in late fall.

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