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Jazz prove 'no lead is safe' isn't just a cliche

By Brian Mahoney

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Nov. 15 2010 8:19 a.m. MST

As the Utah Jazz wiped out one big deficit after another during their remarkable road trip, a couple of NBA truths were proven again.

No lead is safe, especially against a team that plays as hard as the Jazz.

"I think it's another testament to the team that over the years has been the most mentally tough in the league," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Year in and year out, their mental and physical toughness is a standard that we've always tried to approach."

Popovich and other coaches were impressed, but not completely stunned by Utah's collection of comebacks. "Every team makes a run" may be an overused line in the league, but it's not just a cliche. To some, it's simple math.

"The reason it's a game of runs is because normally a team will come out and maybe shoot 60 percent for the first 5 minutes or 10 minutes, or maybe for a half," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "You shoot 60 percent and the next half, statistically you'll probably be in the 20s or 30s because it's going to average out to about 45. And the other team probably shot in the 30s, now they're up to 60. It just happens."

Still, even Popovich was a little surprised by the Jazz coming back from 22 points down in Miami and 18 the next night in Orlando. One of the victims wasn't.

"It's a 48-minute game, and over 48 minutes I don't think it's surprising that a team with Deron Williams, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Andrei Kirilenko can win games. I don't think that's surprising," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said.

"I think what's surprising is they can be down 18, be down 20, be down 12. So they're getting a lot of credit for the comebacks they deserve, but the game's 48 minutes and over 48 minutes, again, they should win some close games and they've done a hell of a job."

The back-to-back wins in Florida were only part of the story. The streak began at home on Nov. 6, when the Jazz erased an 18-point deficit before beating the Los Angeles Clippers in two overtimes.

Then came an overtime victory over powerful Miami, when Millsap scored 46 points to bring Utah back. After beating Orlando, the Jazz rallied from 11 points behind in the fourth quarter at Atlanta before wrapping up the trip by storming back from a 16-point halftime deficit Saturday at Charlotte.

Utah plays at home Monday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who know they can't let up if they get ahead of Jerry Sloan's team.

"How can he have not ever had the Coach of the Year?" Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "It's the toughness. He doesn't let his team quit. They just keep playing. They're not going to win all of the games, but they're going to play hard in all of the games."

The Jazz are not the only ones who've gone down but refused to stay there.

Already this season, there have been 10 games a team lost after leading by 15 or more points, according to STATS LLC. It happened on the first night of the season, when the Houston Rockets could have spoiled the Los Angeles Lakers' ring ceremony but couldn't protect a 15-point, third-quarter advantage.

"When you're down, you're playing with house money. The shot's a lot freer and when you're up, you're trying to protect that lead," Houston forward Shane Battier said. "It's so tough to get a lead in this league. So combination of confidence when you're down and you make a few, and the tightening of the, let me put this nicely, the tightening of the buttocks when you start to feel that lead slip away."

D'Antoni's team coughed up a 21-point lead Friday at Minnesota, when Kevin Love's 31-point, 31-rebound performance rallied the Timberwolves. D'Antoni said part of the Knicks' problem is they play a fast tempo, taking quick shots — which Love rebounded most of — and giving the opponent plenty of turns with the ball.

But even a team that plays a deliberate pace can't just sit on its big cushion.

"In the NBA, you can't hold the ball and run the clock out. You've got to shoot it within 24 seconds, so there's a lot more possessions," Brooks said. "All it takes is five or six stops and four or five scores in those same stops and you're back in the ballgame. And then you're just playing from there on out."

And a lull doesn't have to be long.

"Whenever you play teams like the Orlandos or the Bostons or the Lakers or the Spurs of the world, you can't play half a game. You can't have 3-5 minutes of bad basketball, where you're turning the ball over or you're missing your defensive assignments," Nets coach Avery Johnson said. "These type of teams, they make you pay for those situations. Maybe some of the other teams, you can get away with it."

Certainly not against the Jazz.

"Jerry Sloan, he's tough and they don't give up. They don't quit," Brooks said. "That's crazy what they did."

AP Sports Writer Jeff Latzke in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

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