Utah Jazz: Still trying to figure out how to win games on road
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Jekyll and Hyde — not to be confused with Gerry and Lyde — were not players on the Utah Jazz roster last season.
The team just seemed to play with split personalities in 2008-09, depending on whether the Jazz were hostile hosts in the comfy confines of EnergySolutions Arena or if they were acting as gracious guests in opponents' arenas.
The difference between their success at home and on the road was stark and startling. The Jazz played like an elite team in Utah, where they went 33-8. But they played like, well, a lottery team by going just 15-26 as visitors.
Improving their away play is now a top priority.
"When you win 15 games on the road," Deron Williams said, "it's gotta be a topic of discussion."
The Jazz point to a variety of things that attributed to their worst road record since 2004-05, when the were 8-33 away from home and 26-56 overall. That laundry list includes: youth, injuries, selfishness, and a lack of defense, effort and toughness.
Their list of solutions for a road U-turn is more concise.
It begins and ends with defense.
"There's no excuse, you know," Williams said. "It's a matter of wanting to go out and wanting to get stops. It's a matter of showing some character, showing some fight on the road. I love playing on the road personally."
The point guard isn't the only one insisting on an improved effort.
"We're going to do better this year," Jazz forward Paul Millsap predicted. "On the road, you have to be more defensive-minded than at home. At home, you get out and run and try to outscore people. But on the road, you've got to get stops. That's what we lacked last year."
"We think we're going to be good offensively no matter where we are," Jazz forward Carlos Boozer added. "Truth is, our defense is what's going to help us win games. As long as we play solid defense, we should have a chance to win on the road."
Picking up the common theme here?
"We've go to do a better job on the road and do better (to) play defense, first individually and as a team help more each other," echoed Jazz center Mehmet Okur, who added that defense has been a hot topic since Day 1 of training camp.
Coach Jerry Sloan recalled how Utah also struggled away from home during the John Stockton-Karl Malone days for years.
"We never won on the road until we brought Jeff Hornacek to this team," he said.
The addition of the sharpshooting guard, Sloan said, gave Utah added toughness and another person who knew how to deal with making smart decisions in rough circumstances.
Utah no longer has the playing services of Hornacek — though he does occasionally help coach shooting — but the Jazz coach is hopeful his squad now has the poised, mental fortitude to improve out there in the dreary world.
"Only time can tell," he said. "We'll see how tough we are."
The viewing experience will begin with Wednesday's season-opener at Denver.
Jazz brass, according to general manager Kevin O'Connor, discussed tweaking a variety of habits, including possibly changing diets or slightly reworking their schedules on the road. But it's not like the team is crashing at the Motel 6 on road trips. The team flies on chartered jets, stays in fancy digs, eats catered meals, offers convenient physical treatments at the hotel, etc.
"I think we're similar to everybody else (in the NBA) on the road," O'Connor said, regarding Utah's road way of life. "It's a matter of us getting mentally tougher and getting a little older."
Nobody would quantify how much better they want to be this season, but the Jazz do know they need more road wins if they expect to contend for any type of championship. They would've only needed to finish a game above .500 on the road to tie Denver for the Northwest Division championship and a much-higher playoff seed last spring.
"We learned from it," Boozer said. "We'll have more of a focus on the road than we did last year hopefully, especially defensively. ...
"We'd like to win," he continued, "every game we play."
Or at least hope the team — which included players Gerry (McNamara) and (Kevin) Lyde last preseason — stops playing like those Jekyll and Hyde guys.
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