'Tis the road trip before Christmas and Utah Jazz want to win
Ravell Call, Deseret News
NEW ORLEANS — Get all nestled and snug, kiddies and Utah Jazz fans.
Carefully hang those stockings by the chimney, inform the mice and other kitchen creatures that stirring hours are over and, please, help mama find her kerchief.
It's time for all of that holiday hoopla.
'Twas the trip before Christmas, after all.
While many dream of sugarplums and other elements of Clement Clarke Moore's fanciful tale, however, the Jazz have visions of another successful road swing dancing in their heads.
"The mind frame," Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko said, "is always to win."
Utah's annual holiday hustle-and-bustle getaway begins Friday in The Big Easy with a rematch against the New Orleans Hornets, who lost 105-87 to the Jazz in Salt Lake City three weeks ago.
The Jazz then leave the balmy Bayou and brrrrreak off for the teeth-rattling portion of their trip, with a Saturday night stop in Milwaukee, a Monday contest in Cleveland and yet another game Wednesday in Minnesota.
The weather in those locales is about as cold as the teams.
"These are, on paper, four winnable games," Jazz guard Raja Bell said. "So if we go out and take care of New Orleans, we'd like to see what we can do on the trip, see if we can close out this holiday season on the right note."
The Jazz (18-8) had won six consecutive games away from home before falling in Dallas last Saturday. That successful streak included big comeback victories over the likes of Miami, Orlando and Atlanta in four days.
Having been relieved of shopping and gift-wrapping duties on the homefront, this could be a prime time for the Jazz to bring another road streak to a successful end.
"The last road trip was great for us," Kirilenko said. "We won four in a row. Why not? Let's continue doing it."
After facing the 15-10 Hornets — who are only 3-12 when premier point guards Deron Williams and Chris Paul mix it up, mind you — the Jazz take on three teams with a combined record of 23-52.
The NBA schedule-maker could have picked plenty of warmer locales for the Jazz, but it would haave struggled to string together more seemingly winnable road games for Utah.
That's why, Williams said, the Jazz are approaching this trip with a "get some wins" mindset.
"Play good, hopefully start another win streak," he said. "The last time we went on an East Coast swing we were pretty successful, and hopefully we can do the same thing."
In recent years, however, that hasn't always been the case. The Jazz went 2-3 on their pre-Christmas trips in each of the past two seasons, and they won only one game in three of four previous years.
Their 3-2 mark in the 2006 holiday excursion is the only winning one in the past seven seasons.
Those teams, however, didn't show near the resiliency and moxie this Utah club has shown away from EnergySolutions Arena.
"We want to continue to build that chemistry," Bell said.
Of course, the Jazz also hope to improve on weaknesses as well, particularly with their penchant for playing sluggishly early on.
"We want to start games quicker than we have in the past," Bell added, "and maybe we can focus on that on this road trip. More than anything we'd like to get these wins."
Jerry Sloan credited his Jazz coaching predecessor, Frank Layden, for concocting the idea of exiting town while everybody else gives their seasons' greetings.
The Jazz organization has requested a pre-Christmas trip ever since the first one back in the 1985-86 season.
Being less distracted does not guarantee victories, though. Even without yuletide parties and events to attend, Utah has only gone 61-63 in the trips, and only two Jazz teams have gone unbeaten. They went 6-0 in 1994-95 and won all three games in the final Stockton-to-Malone season in 2002-03.
But winning and missing out on egg nog and white elephant gifts aren't the only things on Jazz players' minds this trip.
They also hope not to get frostbite after they leave Louisiana.
Predicted high temperatures in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Minneapolis range between 15-24 degrees.
Guard Raja Bell, who lives in Miami in the offseason, repeated "brutal" four times while thinking of the wintry weather ahead.
"I like to wear certain clothes and I like my fashion," Bell said. "But for this one, I just threw a bunch of big sweaters and a coat in there."
Williams also said his luggage is packed with warm sweaters.
"We should be used to it," he said. "It's been a little chilly here."
And the father of three is not too bothered about being away from home for a week before Christmas. His wife is taking their three kids on their own holiday trip.
"As long as we're there for Santa to come," he added with a smile, "they don't care."
Somewhere up north St. Nick is laying a finger aside of his nose and nodding.
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