The Los Angeles Clippers have fallen on hard times since the last time they played in Salt Lake City on Nov. 14, when they had one of the NBA's better records. They've gone from 5-1 to 11-16.
But Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan was kind of hoping his young team would learn a bit from the Clippers on Tuesday night, even though the Jazz pulled off their third win of the season against them in EnergySolutions Arena, 102-92, with 20-plus points from Carlos Boozer (26), Mehmet Okur (24) and Deron Williams (21).
With the San Antonio Spurs ahead for the 21-8 Jazz in Texas on Thursday night, Sloan was watching how the Clippers set screens and executed their offense in the fourth quarter to cut a 12-point Jazz lead to one, 81-80, with five minutes left.
It's what he wants to see the Jazz do Thursday not to get down a dozen but to set and hold the screens and do all the things the offense is designed to provide rather than forcing wild layups that wind up sending the shooter into the pads surrounding the basket standard and then missing free throws, then trying to do it all over again the next chance.
"Teams that execute, they always have a chance. It's amazing," said Sloan, admiring how the Clippers, minus injured point guard Sam Cassell, set up their offense to make some shots and claw back into a game it seemed the Jazz had well in hand.
"They set some good screens, and that's why they got in the game," Sloan said. "They set some terrific screens. But that's what you learn."
Or, that's what the coach hopes his team learns.
When a fast-break layup is suddenly defended well enough, "You bring the ball back out," Sloan said, "so you don't have to hustle back and fight at the other end of the floor.
"Guys think, 'Give me the ball and I'll show you.' Show me what? Show me how we give up a lead real quick. That's what I'm concerned about."
To some extent, he was talking about but not picking on second-year man C.J. Miles, who saw his first action (six minutes, three rebounds and a steal) in six games. Sloan said he didn't want to be hard on Miles for overeager play because, he was trying.
"It's just a matter of trying to teach somebody how we like to play so we stay in a ballgame, just keep plugging along," Sloan said. "We're not sensational. Just make plays. That's what they did."
Elton Brand had 10 points in the fourth quarter to finish with 21, while Boozer's 26 went with 10 boards for his 22nd double-double.
The Jazz have fallen behind big before and come back, and they've been far ahead and lost leads. This time, they were down by four at most and came back to lead by 12 before almost giving it away.
No, said Williams. Shouldn't have let it get that close.
Yes, said Sloan.
"Yeah, I think there certainly is," Sloan said. "We had a couple turnovers but not as many as we've had, plus you make shots. That solves all the sins in basketball."
Gordan Giricek playing at small forward instead of his usual guard spot because Matt Harpring was out with a stomach virus and Andrei Kirilenko left the game with a slight concussion at 5:51 of the second quarter hit a 19-footer to make it 83-80.
Williams made two baskets, Giricek made a 3 and Okur one of his patented late-game 3s, and Utah went up by nine. After a Boozer tip and another Okur 3, Utah was up by 12.
"I told them not to miss any shots," Sloan deadpanned. "No. I'd be lying if I said that."
Much of the late rally was because Williams was finding the right man for the shot, said Sloan.
"We executed and got the kind of shots that Memo has made, and Deron made a couple of shots," Sloan said.
"We had the ball in our best ballhandler's hands, and he found the guy that he obviously felt had the best shot to take, and that's what basketball is about."
The Clippers, now 1-30 all-time in Salt Lake, were not pleased at missing some shots on which they apparently thought they were fouled, especially Cuttino Mobley on one shot.
"I'm shooting the ball, and it's that short?" he said. "But whatever. Yeah, Fisher is the one that grabbed my arm. (The official) didn't see it, but they call the other stuff. I don't like that."
"They have great technique," Clipper coach Mike Dunleavy said of the Jazz's getting away with what he considered fouls. He vowed he'd study the film and "get our guys to copy it."So perhaps they can learn from each other.