SALT LAKE CITY — With injuries forcing them to compete with just nine players in their last two and a half games, and a psyche not all the way healed from the stunning departure of Jerry Sloan, the All-Star break couldn't have come at a better time for the Utah Jazz. After losing four straight games — three of which came after Sloan resigned — the Jazz are ready to refocus and try to figure out how to get back to being the team that won 15 of its first 20 games this season.
And determine how not to be the team that enters the All-Star break having lost 13 of its last 17.
"I think the break came at the right time," said Deron Williams. "Hopefully, we can put these last few games behind us — really month and a half, two months behind us — refocus, and clear our heads and come back and turn things around."
The Jazz won't practice again until Monday night, and they won't play again until they travel to Dallas on Wednesday. Coach Tyrone Corbin and his players — except for Williams, who will play for the West in the All-Star Game on Sunday for the second straight season — will have the opportunity to rest and recharge.
For Corbin, the break is much needed. He said he's been going 100 miles an hour since being named head coach last Thursday. He has to move his office and get organized this weekend, but not having to run practices or prepare for games bring a welcomed respite.
"(It comes at a) tremendous time for me," Corbin said. "I just got to get my breath a little bit. Everything's happened so fast. I haven't really had a chance to sit down and get organized to see where I am or how to bring the team to where we want to be."
Corbin will also consider if he needs to add another coach to his staff. The Jazz are still short one coach after Sloan and longtime sideline sidekick Phil Johnson resigned. Jeff Hornacek has been added to the staff to assist Corbin, and Scott Layden is the top assistant.
Corbin's last 21/2 games have brought on some huge challenges, as he's had just nine players available because of injuries to Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko, Raja Bell and Ronnie Price. He used some conventional lineups and substitution patterns in losses to the Suns and Warriors.
The Jazz are hoping Corbin doesn't have to be as creative after the break, and that they'll start healing up. Kirilenko said in Phoenix on Tuesday that he was about three or four days away from being ready. Bell and Price have been listed as game-time decisions in Utah's last three games, so they can't be too far from returning. Okur is out at least until early March.
"One thing we do need is to get our guys back," said center Al Jefferson. "Everybody is very important to this team. Once we get guys back healthy, we'll be the same team who was playing real well at the beginning of the year."
If the Jazz don't get some healthy bodies back, they're in trouble. They have slipped all the way to a tie for eighth place in the Western Conference with the Memphis Grizzlies. In the tightly packed West, Utah is 11/2 games behind the teams tied for fifth and sixth place, Portland and New Orleans. The Jazz are five games ahead of 12th-place Houston.
The Jazz never would have guessed they'd be in this spot in the conference standings at this point in the season. The positive way of looking at it is there is still a lot of basketball to be played this season. "It's been a frustrating year for everybody, but we still believe in each other and feel like we can be a good team," Williams said. "We just need to figure things out."
Williams has been banged up for much of the season. He's still dealing with a sore wrist that is affecting his shot, and Corbin said the All-Star guard is hobbled by a leg injury. Corbin admitted before Wednesday's game against Golden State that he wishes Williams was resting this weekend instead of playing.
"Selfishly, for this team and this franchise, I wish he would have just shut it down and just taken the break," Corbin said. "But it's an honor to be a part of the All-Star weekend and he certainly deserves that. I know he wants to be a part of it."
Although he wishes Williams was taking it easy this weekend, Corbin said he'd never ask him to miss out on an All-Star Game.
"I'll tell him to have a good time," Corbin said. "He deserves to be there. I'm happy for him being selected to the team."
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