Sour hour for Jazz against shorthanded Nuggets
But team not ready to stop playing yet despite lousy loss
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Leaning against a concrete pillar in an EnergySolutions Arena hallway, Greg Miller dejectedly studied a postgame boxscore.
What he saw on the sheet detailing Denver's 105-95 win over the Jazz on Saturday — Utah's first game of 2010, and its fourth loss in six outings — was abysmal.
A season-worst 26 turnovers for the 18-15 Jazz. A season-worst 33 points yielded off all the turnovers. And a season-worst 64 points permitted in the paint.
Then there was what he didn't see:
Nothing from Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony, who didn't play because of a bruised knee, and nothing from starting point guard Chauncey Billups, who sat out with a lingering groin strain. "This one," Miller said after Denver snapped a string of four straight defeats in Utah, "is a tough loss."
Asked if he's committed to keeping the team together, or if it's time to consider alternatives, the Jazz CEO and eldest son of late owner Larry H. Miller held his ground.
"This business," he said, "is a constant effort to balance between being as competitive as we can be and not being fiscally irresponsible.
"We'd love to go out and spend $200 million a year on talent, but that's just not realistic."
"So, we've taken our best shot," added Miller, who as it is will be spending more than $83 million on payroll and luxury-tax fines this season. "We've got the roster that ..."
Before continuing, Miller paused 15 seconds and cleared his throat.
"We can win ballgames with this team," he said, choosing his words quite carefully. "We have talented players. These guys know how to win. And I think, like a lot of fans, I get frustrated when I don't see the effort. But I haven't lost faith in these guys yet."
It was that lack of effort — "Denver came out and just outhustled all four quarters," Miller said — that seemed to eat most at those with the Jazz.
Especially after a Northwest Division meeting with division-leader Denver, one that beforehand forward Carlos Boozer called both "monumental" and "a huge game for us."
The Jazz, as Boozer pointed out, started the day ninth in the NBA's Western Conference — out of the conference playoff picture looking in.
Yet still, Utah allowed the 21-12 Nuggets — who got a game-high 23 points from Billups fill-in Ty Lawson — to lead by as many as 16 points in the third quarter and take a 10-point advantage into the fourth.
The Jazz never got within closer than eight after that.
"You wonder where their heads are," coach Jerry Sloan said. "You've got to compete. ... I never really felt like we got there."
Not even against a Nuggets team missing Anthony and Billups, who together represent 47 of Denver's usual 107 points per game.
"They're still a good team," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "But the effort wasn't there, I don't think. You know, the energy wasn't there. It seemed like they wanted the game more than us."
Williams missed the Jazz's morning shootaround with what the team called "stomach flu" and admittedly was hampered, saying, "You don't eat much, you don't have energy."
But he refused to use that as an excuse.
"The game should mean more to us than it did," he said. "Every one of us, you know? Nobody played good today."
Despite that, Sloan — who pointed out the Jazz were 18-14 after 32 games last season, when they made the playoffs — stood by his embattled club.
"It's not doomsday. I mean, if we come and play we'll be fine," he said. "But you can't expect teams to give you games. You've got to earn them, and work for them.
"I'm not gonna panic. ... The season's not over. We'll keep playing. We just got through playing three games in four days in three different cities, when you look at it. So, that's part of basketball you can't panic about.
"You'll have nights that things don't go right for you, the whole world hates you," added Sloan, who was last seen creasing a scoresheet following an especially tough loss Thursday night at Oklahoma City. "Everybody hates you, and people boo you. But it's your job to pick yourself up, and try to do it again. You can't bail out."
Sloan, like Miller, seems inclined to keep the Jazz together even through next month's NBA trade deadline.
"We can't afford to panic," he said. "I'm sure a lot of people will. But hopefully our players won't. They'll stay together, and go from there."
Williams expressed similar sentiments.
"I'm all for anything improving the team. But we have a great group of guys here, you know?" he said. "You know, you can always say there's something else that can help improve this team — but I think right now this is the team we have, so you can't think elsewise until something happens.
"And with this group we have, we just have to put a run together. You know, we know we can win some ballgames in a row. It's got to happen sometime."
With that, Williams scratched at his face.
"That," he said, "is why I'm growing my beard. Because I said we can win five in a row."
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