Utah Jazz: Slumping, short-handed squad trying to remain 'positive'

Published: Friday, March 1 2013 10:52 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — While Earl Watson was at UCLA during his college days, he forged a friendship with legendary coach John Wooden.

More than a decade later, the point guard continues to refer to wisdom gleaned from the Wizard of Westwood.

Watson believes the slumping Utah Jazz, losers of three straight, would benefit from taking Wooden's advice to heart, too.

"Sometimes it doesn't matter what you do, life is just tough. It's the mindset that changes it. It's all mental with us right now," Watson said. "Coach Wooden used to always say, 'Basketball and life go hand in hand. You learn from both.' Positive energy is the only way we're going to get out of where we are now."

Having a full, healthy squad would be helpful, too.

The Jazz had plenty of elbow room at Thursday's practice. Reasons ranged from maternity wards to an MRI, but the injury-plagued team only had nine fully healthy players for its off-day workout session at Zions Bank Basketball Center.

It's uncertain how many the Jazz will have available for tonight's home game against Charlotte.

Neither Paul Millsap nor Randy Foye were at practice because their significant others were busy adding to the Jazz family by delivering healthy baby girls. Millsap is still dealing with his sprained left ankle, so it wasn't certain if the power forward would've practiced after missing Wednesday's 102-91 loss to Atlanta anyway.

The Jazz were also without starting center Al Jefferson, who is nursing a sprained left ankle injury and is day-to-day like Millsap.

Forward DeMarre Carroll tweaked his knee in Wednesday's loss. Carroll couldn't practice because he was undergoing an MRI.

Point guard Mo Williams was at practice, but he was only able to participate in portions because his surgically repaired right thumb hasn't progressed enough to do contact drills.

The Jazz, of course, remain without Raja Bell, who's exiled in Miami.

"It's a difficult situation, but it's where it is," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We've been able to weather the storm when we've had guys out or been counted out. The guys have rallied together and stayed together and was able to work their way through it, and we expect that to continue."

With a rough March looming after what should be a gimme game tonight against the 13-win Bobcats, the Jazz need something positive to happen.

Positive energy. Positive play. Positive results.

"I don't think it's the end of the world, but we obviously have to pick it up," Jazz sixth man Gordon Hayward said. "We can't let this losing streak go any further."

The Jazz have dropped to 31-27 while slumping, but remain a half-game ahead of Houston (31-28) in seventh place and two behind No. 6 Golden State (33-25) in ongoing playoff positioning.

The injury situation certainly adds an element of difficulty in an already tough time.

Their coach is trying to remain, you guessed, positive.

"Guys will give a good effort," Corbin said. "We'll continue to do that, try and move things around. I'll have to ask guys to do a few different things than they're normally doing, but we just have to make our way."

While any win will do the team some good after consecutive losses to the Clippers, Celtics and Hawks, including two straight at home, the Jazz are entering one of their toughest months of the season.

In March, Utah has a four-game road swing in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Chicago and New York next week, an ominous Oklahoma City visit, and a Texas tripleheader trek against Houston, San Antonio and Dallas.

That's daunting for a short-handed squad that has only won 10 of 29 games outside of the 801 area code.

"It's not going to get any easier for us," Corbin said. "Hopefully, we get healthy sooner than later and get beginning to feel better about how we're playing, and everything else will take care of itself."

Watson said the injuries are just another obstacle to be overcome as the Jazz try to "build character." His suggestion is for the Jazz to focus on being "the best team we can be each day," and not worry about negative influences.

"It starts with us taking away positive things. It can make our fans more happy about what we're doing," Watson said. "No one on this team wants to lose. No one wants to go through struggles, moments where guys get injured, rotation lineup changes. No one wants to do that."

Added Watson: There's always an obstacle. Life is unpredictable. So is basketball. I think the main thing right now — no matter what, just stay positive."

JAZZ NOTES: Jazz players visited 10 schools Thursday along the Wasatch Front and read to elementary students as part of the organization's "Be A Team Player — Read" contest. Along with being read to by a Jazz player, the winning student bodies earned ice cream parties. Nearly 21,500 students read for 17.2 million minutes during the challenge. … Randy Foye needs one 3-pointer to set a new record for 3-pointers in a single season by a Jazz player. He currently has a career-high 129 3s, tied with Mehmet Okur (2006-07). … It's possible lineup changes could be in order tonight, even if all players are healthy enough to go. "We'll revisit some things," Corbin said, "and see what gives us the best chance."

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