Utah Jazz have a tough 'road' ahead

Will play 22 of next 33 games on road

Published: Sunday, Feb. 5 2012 10:05 p.m. MST

Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson (25) celebrates the win over the Lakers in Salt Lake City Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

NEW YORK — The dreaded portion of the schedule that jumps off the page — and probably draws long stares, sighs and an ability to recite flight attendant air-safety protocols — has arrived for the Utah Jazz.

The durability of their luggage won't be the only thing tested from now until the beginning of April.

Over the next 57 days, these frequent-fliers will play 22 of their next 33 games on the road. Thirteen of their next 18 are out and about, too.

Fasten your seatbelts, please.

Some bumpy air is likely.

Yet, a smooth ride could set the Jazz up for an unexpected journey into the postseason.

"The advantage (on the road) would be if you're winning you can bond more closely because you can really focus in on what you're doing there," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "But if you struggle a little bit, then (it's) going to be a little bit more difficult."

This particular road segment begins tonight at remodeled Madison Square Garden against the Knickerbockers. The Jazz then travel to Indiana on Tuesday for Gordon Hayward's homecoming before returning home for a quick pit stop against the Thunder.

Utah then gets its turn at the lockout-special back-to-back-to-back adventure, with games on consecutive nights in Memphis, New Orleans and Oklahoma City.

The road demands ease up after that with alternation home and away dates leading up to the All-Star break (Feb. 23-26), but then it gets ugly quickly — for the Jazz and their travel coordinator.

March is one of the roughest road months in franchise history, with a five-game trip from Dallas to Cleveland, Charlotte, Philadelphia and then Chicago, a three-game swing in four days (Atlanta, New Jersey and Boston) and a total of 12 contests away from EnergySolutions Arena.

Peanuts and ginger ale anyone?

How about a make-or-break opportunity?

"That's where you make your stride," Corbin said, optimistically looking at road games. "The teams on the top part of their division or conference win a huge percentage of games at home. If you can get 50 percent or better on the road, then you have a great year because of that."

Road stumbles, then, have kept the Jazz at the good-not-great level so far this season. Utah opened 0-3 outside of the Beehive State, and Corbin's crew has only won two of seven as visitors.

No other NBA team has played fewer than eight away games, with a couple having already logged 16 nights in hostile territory. Only Detroit, Washington and Charlotte (a combined 3-34) have fewer road wins than Utah.

A list of challenges exist elsewhere, especially for younger guys who tend to play better, more confidently and more comfortable at home. The feel of arenas — from hardwood floors to depth perception changes at the basket and lighting — are different. Everything from hotel beds to routines to treatment facilities change, too.

Players have to depend on their teammates and coaches for support because thousands of people around them hope they fail.

"If a team get a run, they can use their fans to propel them further. If you're getting down, you have nobody to lift you up but your teammates," Corbin said. "You have to make sure you stay together, continue to execute the things that give you a chance to win and not get into the selfish one-on-one ball."

The good news for the Jazz is that they have a full squad again. Not everybody is 100 percent healthy, but everybody is available to play after key backcourt contributors Devin Harris, Raja Bell and Earl Watson returned to the lineup Saturday.

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