SALT LAKE CITY — The Comeback Crew that took rallying to an unheard-of level now has a new challenge.
For the first time since they ratcheted up their resolve to overcome outrageous obstacles a week and a half ago, the Utah Jazz's resiliency will be tested in a different way tonight against the New Jersey Nets.
For five straight sensational games — and five consecutive eyebrow raising comeback wins over the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta and Charlotte — the Jazz showed what they can do to a second-half double-digit deficit.
They nearly did that again Monday, but couldn't quite recover from Oklahoma City's 13-point lead at EnergySolutions Arena on Monday. That presents the Jazz with a new test.
Now everybody will see how this re-energized group responds after a loss.
Can Team Turnaround recover from an eight point loss to the Thunder like it did to a combined 88 points worth of leads by its previous five opponents?
"We've just got to bounce back," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "It's just one game. It's a long season. We played a good team."
On Tuesday, the Jazz had a rare day of practice, which they haven't had in a week since leaving last Monday for a four-games-in-five-nights stretch in the Southeast. Still, the Jazz only had nine players at full strength because of health issues for Raja Bell (strained groin), Andrei Kirilenko (sprained second knuckle on his left hand) and Kyrylo Fesenko (dizziness and headache).
A good portion of practice was dedicated to watching film, which coach Jerry Sloan hopes will help his team clearly see some of the specific execution problems on defense and offense.
"We bounced back in the game (Monday)," said Sloan, whose team was within three points in the final minute after seeing a wild 25-point momentum swing go in OKC's direction. "But we couldn't finish, couldn't make stops to finish. That's what you have to be able to do. You can't just expect to exchange baskets."
Bell, who hopes to play tonight after missing Monday's game, said the Jazz are optimistic they'll be able to return to the winning column. He believes Utah needs to be more consistent and to communicate better.
"You never really know what you're going to get until you get out there," Bell said. "But we've shown that we don't hang our heads too long and that we're able to kind of bounce back. Hopefully (tonight) we'll be ready to go."
Center Al Jefferson, who only had 12 points, five rebounds and struggled to 5-for-14 shooting, said the 7-4 team is keeping the rare defeat in perspective.
"It's just the league. You can't win them all," Jefferson said. "But you've got to learn from your mistakes and just come back and be ready to go again tomorrow. With the coach that we've got, giving up is not an option."
Making improvements is an option, though. To that end, Williams said after Monday's game that he was looking forward to practicing.
At Tuesday's practice, Williams expounded on that, saying the Jazz need to work on "concentration (and) executing for the whole game, being in the right spots and then playing defense for the whole game, talking, communicating."
Both the Jazz and Thunder shot a tad over 50 percent Monday, and Williams insists that's way too high of a percentage for an opponent to compile. The Jazz defensive communication was "good in spurts," he said. But it faltered at times, especially in the middle of the game and in the final couple of minutes when OKC built and preserved its lead.
"Bottom line is," Sloan added, "we've just got to come and play hard."
Recent history bodes well for that request from the coach. The Jazz have shown an uncanny ability to increase their effort when a comeback has been in order recently.
They don't plan on changing that trend just because a four-win Nets team is in town.2 comments on this story
"We're not going to take anybody lightly," Williams said. "We have to come and play. This is the NBA. Anybody can be beat on any night."
Last week's comeback highlights are proof of that.