SALT LAKE CITY — In anticipation of facing the downtrodden Cavaliers tonight, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan fielded several questions from the media about how he'd handle a difficult season, losing streaks and getting his team ready to play Cleveland.
The questions gave him a chance to reminisce, and it would benefit many of the NBA's young players to hear his answers.
Notably, Sloan — the first expansion-draft pick of the Chicago Bulls in 1966 — quickly learned how to become a pro. After playing a season for the Baltimore Bullets, he joined the Bulls and understood what a privilege it was to get paid to play basketball. In turn, he gave everything he had every night he played.
Sloan's Bulls went 33-48 that first season and took fourth place in the Western Division. They were swept in a five-game playoff series by the St. Louis Hawks.
"We didn't win a lot of games, but we made the playoffs the first year," Sloan said. "It was quite an experience because of the way guys played hard. We knew we were outmanned every night, but the idea of getting yourself ready to play and competing like the devil is what you get paid to do. To not do that is kind of selling your fans short from what they deserve."
And giving the fans what they deserve is something that's important to Sloan.
"This franchise has always had tremendous support from our fans," Sloan said. "I think about some of these teams that don't have great crowds night in and night out. It's like being on the road."
SHARING PAYS OFF: The Jazz's unselfish play was a big reason why they were able to score a season-high 131 points against the Knicks on Wednesday. Utah had 31 assists on 45 made baskets. They made extra passes, found open players and pounded the ball down low.
"When we share the ball, we're a really good team," said Jazz forward Paul Millsap. "When we're unselfish, we're a lot better team."
Sloan was just as pleased with the 54 points in the paint that the Jazz scored as the 31 assists.
"The big thing is that it's easier to have assists when you set screens and screen people," Sloan said. "I thought we did a better job of setting screens and getting guys open. We had opportunities where we got the ball inside. The ball went inside for easy baskets. That's what you like to see. That's what execution is about."
HE WILL (STILL) BREAK YOU: In his first game as a U.S. citizen, Andrei Kirilenko played as well as he ever did as a full-fledged Russian.
Kirilenko was a difference-maker against the Knicks with 14 points, seven assists, six rebounds and two blocked shots. He played a little more than 37 minutes and had a plus-minus of plus-14.
"He's doing a good job," said Millsap. "He's helping us out a lot and hopefully he can keep it up."