Brad Rock: Jazz' playoff chances begin in the kitchen

Published: Monday, Feb. 20 2012 11:15 p.m. MST

Utah Jazz guard Devin Harris (5) reacts after hitting a shot during the first half on an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Monday, Feb. 20, 2012, in Salt Lake City.

Jim Urquhart, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY —

At this point, it's not all that complicated for the Utah Jazz. They're still a few of years away from winning half their games on the road. Heaven knows it took the old Jazz teams an eternity to learn how to do that.

So for the time being, they have no option but to cook in their own kitchen — or as the saying goes, get out altogether.

It's not like they have another plan to get in the playoffs.

The Jazz crept ever closer to the mid-season break, Monday at EnergySolutions Arena, looking typically promising but equally discouraging. The latest loss came at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs on Monday, 106-102. Never mind the Spurs were without former All-Star Manu Ginobili and key reserve Tiago Splitter.

That makes it four losses in five games and nine in the last 12. There's also that five-game losing streak against the Spurs. A surprisingly good Jazz team a few weeks ago became far more pedestrian once it hit the road.

With the All-Star break looming, it is clear the Jazz aren't fighting for contention, just relevance. If the season ended today, they would miss the playoffs, though they are bunched with Portland, Denver, Minnesota, Memphis and Houston among teams that may or may not slip into the postseason.

So many teams, so little breathing room.

"Not looking at the (15-16) record, just looking at the way we're playing, I think we're OK in a lot of areas," said Jazz coach Ty Corbin before the game, ticking off items such as defense and execution as improving, but attacking the basket from the perimeter as an area to build up. "We've still got to get better in a lot of areas, also.

"So we're coming along. I don't want to say it's above where we thought we would be, but I don't necessarily think we're below it, either — if that answers your question without confusing you."

Confusion? That's something the Jazz need to worry about.

In spite of the latest loss, the Jazz remain decent at home (12-6), though they have only modest evidence to prove it. They mostly feasted on mid- and low-level teams that they should be beat in Salt Lake City, regardless.

Meanwhile, their only road wins this year were at Golden State, Denver and Memphis.

Time once was when the Jazz were criticized for being one of the league's oldest teams. Now it's a younger team, but it certainly could use an aging star or two. It's true both Jeff Hornacek and Karl Malone were in the house on Monday, but what were they supposed to do, make faces at the Spurs?

So as the Jazz bump along, the obvious question is whether they have a shot to squeak into the playoffs. Answer: Yeah, a long one. It would take some heavy lifting work to turn this into an extended season.

Still to come: road games at Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles A and A-1, and San Antonio — all virtually certain losses. Yet if they could lock things down at home, there's a chance. If they go 11-4 at ESA — not an impossibility — and 8-12 on the road, they would wind up 34-32 overall. As it now stands, a few games above .500 could get them in the playoffs.

On Monday the Jazz looked mostly ready to defend their turf. They built a 13-point lead against a Spurs team that has won 11 consecutive games. But the Spurs doggedly fought back. Although the Jazz were ready for Tim Duncan's 20 points and Tony Parker's 23, they weren't as prepared for reserve Matt Bonner, who averages seven points but made five of six 3-pointers and finished with 20 points.

Despite the loss, it didn't change the Jazz's picture. Play great at home — which they mostly did on Monday — and beat the teams they should on the road.

Otherwise, they'll have to rely on another old kitchen adage: Let them eat cake.

email: rock@desnews.com, Twitter: therockmonster, Facebook: Rockmonsterunplugged

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