What once was taken for granted around here as a normal part of spring — going to the NBA playoffs — had become scarce. An arena whose best moments had come in May and June of years gone by — packed to the brim, pulsating music blaring, balloons floating, crowd inhaling and exhaling every possession, noise ratcheting to the level of a 747 landing at mid-court — remained dark for the past fistful of Aprils, the loud ghosts of past postseason triumphs and defeats fading from memory.
Vivint Smart Home Arena will be lit up again this Apri.
For how long is the question at hand.
Another question: How much does it matter?
Of late, the only frame the Jazz had by which to measure themselves, their competitive progress, has been the regular season. They finished with 25, 38 and 40 wins the past three years. They've hauled in 51 this season, a remarkable achievement, considering the nearly 200 player games lost to injury and other absences. Only 13 times have the Jazz put their preferred starting lineup on the floor this season.
Now we'll see if that resolve steeled them for the intensity of what comes next, a second season some of the club's players — including Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood, Joe Ingles and Dante Exum, among others — never have experienced. The guys who know what the playoffs feel like either gained that knowledge in a different uniform or had only a brief, bitter taste of them in 2012.
How will they do this time around? What do they have to do to make the 2016-17 season a success? The answer to the second question is … show up and play hard. That sounds all pollyanna, a bit good-job-good-effort-like, but, it's probably true in this specific case.
The Jazz already have covered vast amounts of ground in the regular season, with players such as Gobert and Gordon Hayward becoming stalwarts of the franchise. Whatever showing in the playoffs is necessary to satisfy Hayward's thirst for winning and prompt him to return as a free agent would be the best answer.
The Jazz are good enough to beat the Clippers, despite a long record of struggles against them. Over the past few seasons, they've dropped 17 of 19 games against L.A. But with the Jazz finally getting healthy, and with Hayward and Gobert becoming what they now are, some of that past can be tossed.
The fire seen out of the Jazz in their March 13 home win against the Clips could be a harbinger of things to come, as Quin Snyder can dial all of his team's energy and focus onto the particulars of locking down on Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan over what could be an extended series.
One thing to watch will be Snyder's rotation. Coaches often shorten their rotations in the playoffs, limiting them to somewhere around eight players. But a strength of the Jazz this season, as evidenced in the last week of the season with the win at Golden State, when three starters couldn't go, has been their depth. Contributions have come from nearly every corner. With the starters essentially healthy again, and with the usefulness of the backups evident, who sits now? Who will come off the bench and when, for how long?
Snyder will have more options than he has had for the better part of two seasons, all of which brings game-by-game, minute-by-minute decisions to make. How much will he alter the plan, depending on the circumstances? Not even he knows with any certainty.
We're about to find out in the bright lights and sound blasts of the playoffs.
Either way, an arena that has slept for too long at this time of year is awake again. The Jazz are competent enough to compete with the Clippers. But even with the additions of playoff veterans George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw, it remains something of a mystery how the team will respond in their first go-round together.
Winning a first-round series isn't necessary for 2016-17 to be designated a success. But doing so would remove all doubt.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM. Twitter: @GordonMonson.