ATLANTA — It's happened often enough that it has definitely become a trend for the Utah Jazz.
Outplaying opponents down the stretch? Cobbling together wild comeback wins? Receiving national attention for spectacular runs and rallies?
Laughing in the face of double-digit deficits?
Yes, on all accounts.
But the disconcerting trend coming into tonight's game at Atlanta is this: The Jazz have been arriving noticeably (and fashionably?) late to NBA parties.
In the past four games, the Jazz have yet to hit the 40-point mark by halftime. They're making a habit of letting opponents get off to a head start while their game rolls out of bed, checks its e-mail, brews some coffee and eventually strolls into the arena.
"We can't continue to do that," Utah center Al Jefferson said.
It has made for intriguing drama watching the Jazz battle back so valiantly three games in a row. But what happened last Friday at Golden State — falling behind and apart without being able to mount a comeback — is the scenario most likely to play out over the course of an NBA season.
"The first halves have been abysmal for us," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "And we have to find a way to turn it around and get our energy up."
The Jazz fell behind the Clippers by 13 at the end of the first quarter. They began the Miami game by missing 15 of their first 17 shots. And they were outscored 22-13 in the second quarter in Orlando.
And they won those games. They coughed up a lead at the end of the second quarter against the Warriors, who went into the locker room of their ugly 85-78 win on an 8-0 tear.
Since going off on Toronto last Wednesday for 66 first-half points, the Jazz have only put 39, 39, 32 and 35 points on the scoreboard heading into halftime.
And the Jazz know they're playing with fire by waiting to start their engines.
"We've just got to play the way we play in the second half at the beginning of the game," Jefferson said.
"We know what we're capable of doing," Jazz forward Paul Millsap added. "We've just got to go out there and do it for the full 48 minutes."
The worst quarter for Utah has been No. 2, when the Jazz have only averaged 20.8 points in eight games. They haven't been much better in the first quarter with a 22.9-point average.
But they're stellar scorers in the second half, averaging 27.9 points in the third and 29.0 points in the final 12 minutes.
That amounts to an average of 43.7 points in the first two periods compared to 56.9 points per second half.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan won't complain about quicker starts, but he prefers big endings.
"It's a matter," he said, "of how you finish."
Nobody in Utah is complaining about that trend.
HISTORIC RALLIES: The Jazz have made modern history with their three straight comeback wins, which included rallying out of 18-point holes against the Clippers and Magic and that epic 22-point rally against Miami.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no team in the shot clock era (since 1954) had ever won back-to-back-to-back games after trailing by at least 10 points at halftime.
Utah trailed the Clippers by 16 at half and won 109-107 in double-overtime; fell behind the Heat by 19 at the break and earned a 116-114 victory; and was down 10 to the Magic before storming to a 104-94 trifecta triumph.
"I guess we like living on the edge," Millsap said. "Hopefully, we cut it out because we're going to have to get it together."
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