Utah Jazz: Halfway home, Jazz not satisfied
Excuses about all of the injuries don't cut it with Sloan, team
Mike Terry, Deseret News
It was perhaps the low point in the first half of their 2008-09 NBA season, worse than the ankle sprain battled by Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer's knee injury that needed arthroscopic surgery and the two knees belonging to Paul Millsap that are so sore he is playing with a brace on each.
It was last Wednesday night in Oklahoma City, and the Jazz who start the second half of their season tonight vs. Minnesota had just taken a beating from the last-place team in the league.
Backup point guard Brevin Knight who averages barely more than 15 minutes per game in his first season with the Jazz, but who has taken a spin or two around the NBA block felt compelled to speak.
It wasn't necessarily a team meeting.
It wasn't really a mad rant.
It was just, Knight recalled a few nights later, "some things that needed to be addressed."
"I just think we're at a point where it's crucial for us to win games that are winnable games," he said. "You know, we go out and don't perform to the best of our ability and it's because of effort.
"I've been around," added Knight, who has played for nine teams in 12 seasons but who has taken part in only two postseason series, spaced six years apart. "I've seen enough bad teams, and I've seen how you become bad. So, I just wanted us to realize we're good and what makes us good. And make sure we continue to build on that."
At 24-17 but with 108 man games lost to injuries this season, the temptation to dwell on the negative at this midway marker is luring indeed.
"We've never played one game with a full roster yet," forward Andrei Kirilenko said.
"It's tough," Williams added. "We've had so many different lineups, different starting lineups (13 in all), guys in and out."
Even Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, not one with a penchant for making excuses, acknowledges as much.
"We've tried to play, and tried to compete, and tried to put ourselves in position to maybe get to the playoffs if we get everybody healthy," Sloan, whose club still is without two-time All-Star Boozer for at least another two-and-a-half weeks, said after a loss Saturday at Dallas that dropped halfway-home Utah to 8-13 on the road.
"But that's not guaranteed either," he added. "I realize that."
Another reality, at least in Sloan's mind, is that the Jazz have no other choice but to understand what is an expectation for some actually is a necessity to him.
"We've got to figure out some way to make the playoffs," he said. "This team's got to make the playoffs."
No one in the Jazz locker room questioned that during a 1-2 road trip last week.
"We're in great shape, considering the fact," Williams said. "But we'd like to be in better shape. A lot better shape."
"I don't think we're satisfied," Kirilenko added, "because we're still kind of balancing in the (Western Conference playoff race). We need to make major improvement."
Especially if they are to meet the lofty preseason expectations of some, including a man who celebrated his 20th anniversary as the coach's club earlier this season - and who now, having recently agreed to a one-year contract extension, is committed to working through at least the end of next season.
"At the start of the season I said I thought they were a pretty talented team," said Sloan, whose club despite its many health woes is one victory better off than it was after 41 games last season and only three off where it was at the halfway point two seasons ago. "In fairness, when you lose players that (struggling) is part of it. But you just hope they don't lose their ambition to want to win.
"That's the thing that worries you most about teams that have injuries," he added. "Sometimes everybody tries to take it on their shoulders and (think) they've got to do it by themselves. When you do that, it's tough to win. But we can execute against most teams."
They can, which is one of several reminders Knight wanted to drive home after the Jazz were done in by the now eight-win Thunder.
One, which seemed to hit home especially hard for Williams, is the obvious need to get off to better starts on the road.
"Brev called us in after that (Oklahoma City) game," he said, "and kind of talked about some things, and one of them was coming out and creating energy.
"Nobody," Williams added, "is going to do it for us."
Or, as Knight said, "We've got to come out and jump on people and let 'em know ... it's going to be a fight."
Another word of advice offered, according to Knight, was the need to "play hard both ends of court (and) step defense up."
Perhaps the backup guard's biggest assist of the season, though, will prove to be the point he made about the Jazz system.
It's all, Knight said, about "believing in our offense, believing our offense works."It's not that we weren't doing it," he added. "Just believe in it more. Buy into it more. Think about it more. And slow the game down somewhat sometimes. That was all it was."
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