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Tough road ahead as Jazz try to prove NBA experts wrong

Published: Saturday, Feb. 11 2012 9:46 p.m. MST

Before the 2011-12 NBA campaign got under way, many so-called experts weren't giving the Utah Jazz much chance for any success in this lockout-delayed season.

And after a couple of lopsided losses to start the season, with three double-digit defeats in their first four games, those experts felt even more confident about their lowly preseason predictions regarding the Jazz.

But with a January schedule heavily loaded with home games, the Jazz suddenly surprised a lot of folks. After that sluggish start, they won 11 of their next 15 games, including a five-game winning streak.

A stellar stretch which featured eight wins in nine outings got Utah's record to 12-7 and — what's this? — helped the upstart Jazz emerge as one of the top teams in the Western Conference.

Now, though, they've fallen on tough times. With losses in five of their last six games, those experts are likely pounding their chests and feeling a lot better about their preseason predictions now.

Indeed, it reminds me of that infamous rant that then-Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green delighted us with following a frustrating Monday night loss to the Chicago Bears a few years back. Remember this one?

"They are who we thought they were!"

Sure you do. And I can hear all those NBA experts who downplayed Utah's prospects for this season saying precisely the same thing about the Jazz right now.

"They are who we thought they were."

Yep, sure enough, a team without much chance for success. And with a schedule that's swung the other way and will be road-heavy for the next couple of months, with 23 of their next 36 games to be played away from EnergySolutions Arena, it's time to see whether those experts were right after all — or if the Jazz can fool 'em again.

Utah's tailspin has been fueled by its failures to contain opposing teams' point guards, who have averaged nearly 29 points per game in the Jazz's last five losses.

But Al Jefferson, the team's leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, insists this is just a rough patch that this unheralded team will find a way to overcome.

"Every team goes through that, man, you know," the 6-foot-10 center said of the Jazz team's recent struggles. "But I'm still feeling confident that we can get it back on track.

"The number one problem is defense, because if you play defense the other team won't outscore you. We've just got to? do a better job of getting back to playing good defense and get stops and give it a run."

After feasting on a home-heavy schedule for the first month of the season, the grind gets under way with a back-to-back-to-back road trip at Memphis, New Orleans and Oklahoma City starting tonight.

Big Al doesn't look at this difficult three-games-in-three-nights challenge as so much of a daunting task as he does a way for he and his teammates to try and pull things together again and get re-focused.

"I'm looking forward to it because I think it's going to be a way to get us together," Jefferson said. "We go out there on the road, we're struggling right now and it's us against the world. This is a time with this team that we've just got to stick together.

"And I don't want to be in no other situation with no other guys but this team right here, because I know we're going to respond and I know we're going to bounce back.

"And I know what everybody in this locker room wants and what they're thinking," he said, "so I'm looking forward to it. We're going to show our toughness and we're going to show if we really want it or not."

So is that true inspiration by Utah's big man, or is it simply lip service? Only time will tell.

And as for "They are who we thought they were," were the experts right all along?

Well, when it comes right down to it, we're still not sure exactly who they are yet.

That still remains to be seen in the weeks ahead.

email: rhollis@desnews.com

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