SALT LAKE CITY — When 19th Century German author Christian Morgenstern wrote "Home is not where you live, but where they understand you," he clearly didn't have the Utah Jazz in mind.
Here in Salt Lake, nobody understands the Jazz. They're as enigmatic as cold fusion.
Hence, the Jazz are in the midst of one of the wackiest starts in franchise history. Has there ever been an early season with so much drama? So far, here are the early returns: talent and heart, but a propensity for easing up on the gas just when they're picking up speed.
Monday night at ESA, the Jazz led by 12, trailed by 13 and lost by seven (115-108). If they proved anything in last week's four-game road sweep, it was that they need to take care of their own place first. Miraculous comebacks and road wins are nice, but they're also just icing.
Home is where you bake the cake.
All those good years in the 1990s, the Jazz were a monster in the market.
"That's, in the coaching business, what you look at the most, see ... hope it doesn't fall apart," said coach Jerry Sloan, when asked about defending the home court. "If guys stay together and work at it, we'll be all right."
Tracking the Jazz this year has been complicated. They're good and just OK, great and mediocre, confident and skittish. They torpedoed the start of their season with losses to Denver (road) and Phoenix (home), then suffered an unexpected scare at home against the Clippers. They followed with their four-game road trip — all wins — in which the Jazz trailed in every game by double digits in the second half. They overcame a 22-point deficit at Miami, 18 at Orlando, 11 at Atlanta and 19 at Charlotte.
Meanwhile, they became the first team since the shot-clock era to win three straight games after trailing by at least 10 at the half.
The Jazz had become experts at erasing double-digit deficits.
Beneath the showy comebacks, though, was the reality that you can't live on thrills forever. Paul Millsap is a fine player, but if the Jazz need 46 points and three 3-pointers from him every night — as was the case in Miami — it's going to be a bumpy season.
Most disconcerting to the Jazz, though, is that they haven't been special (2-2) at home. This isn't good news to Sloan, who has always been wary about being home, anyway. He seems to actually prefer the road.
The fewer the friends, the fewer the distractions.
Wives, kids, relatives, fans and media all combine to tempt players to think about things besides basketball. It's why Sloan, as usual, is taking his team on its traditional pre-Christmas road trip next month that will include games at New Orleans, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Minnesota.
But before that, he had to deal with Monday's game against Oklahoma City, the team many believe can win this year's divisional race. Last year, it took an overtime just for the Jazz to win one of four games against the Thunder. And while the Jazz overran the Thunder this season on Halloween (120-99), that didn't last long. After a boisterous start on Monday night, they soon found themselves outworked. Five minutes into the second half, they trailed by 10.
Only a buzzer tip by Francisco Elson kept the Jazz from entering the fourth quarter with a double-digit deficit. Yet nobody left their seats, even when the Thunder went up by six with under three minutes to go.
Hey, these are the Comeback Kids, right?
Asked if he thought the Jazz could rally again, Sloan dryly replied, "Yeah, otherwise we wouldn't have come. Why go to the game if you don't think you can win?"
Still, the loss showed the Jazz they have neither the talent nor the focus to live off comebacks forever. Who does? That's why winning at home is a must, not a suggestion. Because it just doesn't work to slay dragons in the fields, only to come home and find the barbarians have stormed your castle.
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