Utah Jazz hope to avoid bumpy road

Published: Thursday, Nov. 1 2012 9:38 p.m. MDT

Utah Jazz point guard Mo Williams (5), center, and Utah Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward (20) high five as DeMarre Carroll looks on as the Utah Jazz play the Dallas Mavericks in NBA basketball Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

NEW ORLEANS — Mo Williams thrives on being an unwelcome guest.

"Everybody hates you, (they) boo you," Williams said. "They've got signs. They're heckling you."

Merely talking about being the enemy in away arenas, while inside the comfy confines of the Utah Jazz's practice facility this week, seemed to stoke a fire in the point guard's eyes.

"I just love it," he said. "I always loved playing on the road."

If that's really the case — and the passion he spoke with is convincing — consider this to be Williams' lucky month.

Beginning with tonight's game at New Orleans Arena, the Jazz will be away from home almost as much as Mitt Romney's been traveling during the presidential campaign.

Tell the team's overworked travel coordinator about it. The Jazz will be on Williams-approved trips for eight of their next 10 games.

"I think it's a plus for us," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We have to make it a plus because it is what it is."

And that's just the beginning of their journeys.

Utah will be on the road for 12 of 17 games and for 24 of its first 39 contests.

That's a lot of chocolate mints on hotel pillows to start the season.

Then again, it also means the Jazz have plenty of time to get reacquainted with Salt Lake City in the final half of the season, with 26 of their final 43 games at ESA.

"The schedule balances itself out, but you've got to get off to start at it man," Corbin said. "You can dig yourself in a big hole by losing a lot of road games in a row, and the way the West is, it is going to be extremely difficult all year long."

The Jazz can't afford as many road-kill moments as they had during the lockout-shortened season when they only won 11 times in 33 games. In 2010-11, Utah was 18-23 on the road.

The Northwest Division is too tough.

The Western Conference is too deep.

That's why Corbin has preached to his team that this is an area that requires improvement.

"It will be a great test for us early in the season," he said, "to get out on the road and play against some great opponents, so we've got to be ready to go."

No time like the present, with games in the Bayou, Alamo City and Elvis' old stomping grounds in the next four nights.

The Jazz fell flat in New Orleans twice last season despite being a more talented team, and now the Hornets have the No. 1 pick, talented big man Anthony Davis.

Traditionally, the Jazz have experienced about as much success in San Antonio as Democrats do in Utah County elections. The Grizzlies aren't exactly teddy bears, either.

"It's going to be tough. I think it's a reality. We're on the road a lot coming up, so it's going to be a good test," Williams said. "But at the same time, I think the test is feasible. I think we can get the job done. We're going to play against some good teams, but I think we're prepared enough to put ourselves in a position to win."

Now bring it on him, Hornets, Spurs and Memphis fans — with extra heckles, please.

"I relish those moments," Williams said.

Another thing he relishes?

Snapping embarrassing shots of his snoozing teammates on charter flights. On Thursday, he posted a picture of Marvin Williams in slumberland on his Twitter account while the Jazz were somewhere between SLC and MSY airports.

When they're not goofing or dozing off, Utah hopes the addition of the experienced Williamses and veteran Randy Foye pays off in more wins outside of the Beehive State than in recent years.

"I think it helps us tremendously," Corbin said. "We're looking forward to their leadership on the road. They are experienced in this league and they understand what it takes to win on the road."

The returning Jazz players also overcame early stumbles and won big road games during their playoff run, going 6-6 in their final 12 away games. They're counting on that improvement to carry over.

Corbin said it's critical that players get enough rest, eat right, receive proper treatment, focus on making perfect possessions and stick together. It's easy to fall apart in chaotic conditions, leading to the oft-discussed home-court advantage.

Shooting guard Gordon Hayward pointed out how important it is to avoid playing comeback ball, even though the Jazz became famous for doing that so many times his rookie season.

"It's going to be a challenge for us. I think it's going to challenge us to make sure we bring our won energy," Hayward said. "We're not going to have our fans, who are so tremendous to bring energy for us. We need to make sure that we get off to good starts. It's crucial on the road."

Like his younger teammate, Mo Williams emphasized the importance of channeling that inner-strength and motivation. He credited the Utah crowd for giving the team a needed boost in Wednesday's 113-94 win over Dallas after a slow start, knowing full well that isn't about to happen in New Orleans, San Antonio or Memphis.

"You have to find your own energy. You have to find your own spirit," Williams said. "You have to execute even better. Mistakes have got to be minimized to win basketball games on the road."

Ignoring distractions is another necessity, Williams said. He smiled about even neglecting family and friends who occasionally cheer him on around the country.

"I've just got a way of tuning the fans out," he said, "and just focusing on the task at hand."

The Jazz can thank (or curse) the NBA schedule-maker for giving them plenty of early opportunities to practice that — and to catch teammates catching winks.

"We on the road — it's us against the world," center Al Jefferson said. "That's one thing about the road — we've got to stay together. It's a good challenge for us to start the season off like that, to let us know it's not starting off easy. We're going to stay together and just trust each other, and I believe that's going to bring us closer together."

EMAIL: jody@desnews.com

TWITTER: DJJazzyJody

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS