Utah Jazz face Nuggets still trying to get first road breakthrough of the young NBA season
Tom Smart, Deseret News
DENVER — The Utah Jazz are undefeated at home, and winless on the road thus far in this young NBA season.
And veteran Jazz forward Paul Millsap thinks he might have the perfect cure for whatever ails 'em away from home.
"If we could pack up the fans and take 'em with us, man, it'd be great," Millsap said of the raucous EnergySolutions Arena crowd that has been such a huge factor in many a Jazz victory over the years. "But we can't."
And that's too bad because while the Jazz are 2-0 at home this year, with victories over a pair of perennially powerful opponents, Dallas and the Los Angeles Lakers, they are 0-3 on the road, with losses at New Orleans, San Antonio and Memphis.
They'll get another chance for their first road breakthrough of the 2012-13 campaign tonight when they visit Denver to duel the Nuggets in an 8:30 p.m. tipoff.
Utah coach Ty Corbin is well aware of his team's road struggles, something that plagued them throughout the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season and hasn't gotten better yet.
"We've got to understand a little bit more the sense of urgency from the beginning of the game as we did the last road game we had at Memphis — we were leading at halftime — and then make that a 48-minute game," he said.
"We can't afford to have lulls, especially on the road, because we don't have our crowd and all the other things that pick us up that we do at home. So we've got to make sure we don't have the lulls and when we have a run, we need to extend the run as long as we can and then count on our defense to carry us through."
Asked why Utah's home-court advantage has proven to be so formidable over the years, Corbin attributed it to several factors.
"The crowd, your home floor, your comfortable surroundings, your family's watching," he said. "I mean, it's just all the cookings of being home that help you fight through the tougher times a little easier than when you're on the road.
"And it all seems to be an uphill battle because you're out there on your own and when things are going well, the crowd's on you to break the run and the other team's on you. And if things aren't going well, they're cheering their team on and it seems like there's more than five guys you're going against."
Corbin said a big part of his team's problem could be its confidence, or lack of the same, when playing away from home. And that's a chicken-and-the-egg dilemma, because it's tough to feel confident on the road if you haven't won there yet.
And if you haven't been able to win out there yet, hey, how can you possibly feel confident?
"We just have to understand that we can do it, first of all, and we have to stay more focused on the things we need to do on the floor to be more effective," Corbin said.
"It's important to us. We talked about it right from the beginning of training camp through the end of the exhibition season. We have 12 of the first 18 games on the road and we need to get better on the road than we did last year. It's important to get the first one so we can move on from there."
The Jazz coach realizes that knocking off the run-and-gun Nuggets in Denver will be easier said than done.
"We've got to be focused for 48 minutes," Corbin said. "Denver's going to create a tempo that's up there. They always play fast there, and they play fast all the time but at home they really play fast.
"They want to get you into a game that's kind of wild and up-tempo, make us take a lot of jump shots, and if that's not working for us, we need to slow it down and make sure we understand that we can execute and score in the half court and make them stop us there.
"We want to make them play half-court basketball," he said.
Like Utah, the Nuggets are also 2-3 on the season, and Denver has won its last two.
Point guard Ty Lawson leads the way, averaging 15.6 points and 7.4 assists per game, and newcomer Andre Iguodala, a 6-foot-6 swingman who was one of the NBA's most-prized free-agent prospects last summer, adds 14.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
Forwards Danila Gallinari (14.3 ppg), Kenneth Faried (12.2) and Corey Brewer (10.2) and center JaVale McGee (10.4) are all averaging double-digit scoring as well, and veteran point guard Andre Miller, the former University of Utah standout now in his 14th NBA season, adds 9.2 ppg off the bench.
"We've got to try to limit Ty Lawson's drives to the basket and see what happens," Millsap said of the Nuggets' super-quick point guard. "We're gonna come in there and try to take them out of their game. We've got to make sure we get back in transition; that's going to be one thing because they really like to run out.
"Defense has been a big emphasis for us coming into this year. We've got to step up and we've got to be a better defensive team if we want to win. Last night (a 95-86 win against the Lakers) proved that we can get out there and actually play pretty solid defense for the whole 48 minutes."
But Utah's biggest issue on the road doesn't really seem to be who it's playing against. Instead, it's the disparity between the Jazz's comfort level in how they play at home as opposed to how they play away from EnergySolutions Arena.
And Friday, they'll try to fix that after dropping their first three road games of the year.
"It's kind of hard to pinpoint one area," Millsap said of his team's road shortcomings, "but we've got to get that winning mentality and the same confidence that we have at home. Even though our fans are not going to be with us, we've got to get that same confidence that, when we go on the road, we can beat anybody, at any place.
"You know you've got more people on your side when you're at home, but as a team, we've got to come together and just realize that it's us against the world when we get on the road. It's going to be us against them and their fans, and we've got to come in with that winning mentality that we can beat anybody.
"We've got to stop talking about it," Millsap said with a laugh. "That's one thing, we keep bringing it up — 'we've gotta win, gotta win, gotta win' — instead of just going out there and just doing it. We've just got to go out there and play our game of basketball."
Even if they can't bring their loud and hostile home crowd with 'em.
Former Jazz player Kosta Koufos, Utah's first-round draft choice in 2008, is the Nuggets' starting center. He spent two seasons in a Jazz uniform before being traded to Minnesota in 2010 in the deal that brought Al Jefferson to Utah. Koufos had 14 points and three blocks in a win over Detroit earlier this week. ... Former University of Utah standout point guard Andre Miller, now in his 14th NBA season, is averaging 9.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game off the Denver bench. ... When playing at home, the Nuggets own a 51-32 advantage all-time against the Jazz, who have won their last two games against Denver, including one at the Pepsi Center last year, and lead the overall series 99-66.
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