BOSTON They arrived here fresh off a loss to the Orlando Magic, sans injured All-Star center Dwight Howard, on Friday night.
They'll evidently play a 14th straight game tonight without their own injured All-Star, power forward Carlos Boozer and for how much longer he'll be out remains anyone's guess.
Their point guard, Deron Williams, still is playing at less than 100 percent.
And they'll open their annual, and frequently grueling, pre-Christmas trip this evening against the defending NBA-champion Boston Celtics a team that merely has won 14 straight and at 22-2 is off to his best 24-game start in franchise history.
Only five other times, in fact, have the storied Celtics put together winning streaks of 14 or more and only two other times, including their team-record 18 in a row in the 1981-82 season, have they done it since 1966.
Beyond tonight, the Jazz who have had just one winning pre-Christmas trip in the last five years also have stops Wednesday night in New Jersey, Friday night at Detroit, Saturday night in Chicago and Dec. 23 at Milwaukee.
It all adds up to what could be a make-or-break Eastern swing for the 15-10 Jazz, who have lost four of their last eight overall and two of their last three on the road.
Not so fast, Grinch.
"We're not out of the playoffs yet, are we?" Jazz coach Jerry Sloan asked. "I mean, we're still in the playoff hunt. That's the first and foremost thing we've got to do.
"You know," Sloan added, "I'm not complaining."
That in mind, then, some glass-half-full nog for the Jazz:
• Starting shooting guard Ronnie Brewer is expected back tonight after missing Saturday's game so he could attend the funeral of a maternal aunt.
• Paul Millsap, who has been starting in Boozer's place, has 11 straight double-doubles.
• Last season Utah used its trip to Boston to snap a 10-game Celtics winning streak.
• Utah won 15-of-25 despite the fact that because of a myriad of injuries and absences it has utilized eight different starting lineups, and not one has been that which it initially was planning on for the start of the season: Brewer and Boozer joined by Deron Williams at the point, C.J. Miles at shooting guard and Mehmet Okur at center.
"We've had guys out," Sloan said, "and it will be a little bit of a mess, probably, when we get everybody back."
Precisely when that will be remains to be seen.
The Jazz on Sunday said they continue to call Boozer "out," and Sloan on Saturday suggested he couldn't even be certain if the two-time All-Star will play at all on the trip.
"You know what?" he asked. "I try not to even worry myself with it, because I can't control that. I'd be a nervous wreck if I wondered when everybody was gonna come back.
"I hope they all get back as quick as possible," Sloan added. "I'm sure he feels the same way. But, you, we just keep playing and see what happens."
Due to a strained left quadriceps tendon that has kept him sidelined since he was injured Nov. 19 vs. Milwaukee, Boozer has now missed as many games as still-slowed Williams did with the sprained left ankle he sustained in the preseason.
"Hopefully we can play through it and get it solved as quick as possible," Sloan said after Saturday's loss to the Magic.
"Deron is not Deron Williams who we knew before he got hurt," Sloan added. "I can't do anything about that, except play him, let him get himself better. Obviously everybody knows we need him to play at an extremely high level, and he's struggling, and we'll struggle some."
Now if that's not some holiday cheer for the Jazz, what is?NOTES: Newspapers in at least NBA markets the Boston Globe, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel led their Sunday NBA columns with talk of how last week Sloan celebrated his 20th anniversary as head coach of the Jazz ... Jazz sixth man Andrei Kirilenko leads all NBA bench players in free throws attempts this season with 102, and Boston's Leon Powe is third at 94 ... The Jazz did not practice prior to flying to Boston on Sunday.
Jazz on the air
Jazz (15-10) at Celtics (22-2)
TD Banknorth Garden
Today, 5:30 p.m.
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