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Poof! Jazz road woes gone?

Millsap pours in a career-high 28 in win over Magic

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 2 2015 6:32 p.m. MDT

Jazz forward Paul Millsap (24) goes up for two of his career-high 28 points Friday against Orlando. (John Raoux, Associated Press) Jazz forward Paul Millsap (24) goes up for two of his career-high 28 points Friday against Orlando. (John Raoux, Associated Press)
ORLANDO — When Matt Harpring rejoined the Jazz on Friday, he could sense something wrong.
Terribly wrong.
Moods had soured. Shoulders sagged. Eyes were anything but bright.
Utah had slithered to third place in the NBA's Northwest Division, actually out — even if the season still is young — of a playoff position.
But by the time his first game in a week was complete, and the Jazz had used a 113-94 victory at Orlando to make history their seven-game road losing skid, the bounce was back in coach Jerry Sloan's club.
"The most important thing was (being) able to get a win — wherever it was, whoever we were playing against, whatever the case," said Sloan, whose 15-13 Jazz also snapped a three-game losing streak to the Magic. "Because I think they were starting to doubt just a little bit whether they could win a game."
Utah forward Carlos Boozer glides past Orlando center Dwight Howard (12). Boozer had 24 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists in the game. (John Raoux, Associated Press) Utah forward Carlos Boozer glides past Orlando center Dwight Howard (12). Boozer had 24 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists in the game. (John Raoux, Associated Press)
They did, thanks in large part to a career-high 28 points from backup power forward Paul Millsap that were part of a Jazz season-high 50 bench points.
"Paul was incredible, man," said starting power forward Carlos Boozer, who had 24 points to join Millsap, Andrei Kirilenko (18), Deron Williams (17), Harpring (10) and C.J. Miles (10) in double figures.
"Paul did a great job," Williams added, "of making himself available, presenting himself, and (he) had a little bit of a mismatch size-wise."
Millsap made the most of his matchup with 28-pounds-lighter Rashard Lewis, one which came about when Jazz centers Jarron Collins and Kyrylo Fesenko encountered foul issues trying to guard Magic star Dwight Howard.
With usual starting center Mehmet Okur missing his third straight game due to a strained left shoulder, Utah also threw not a few double-teams at Howard.
But after he got the Jazz's two big men into foul trouble, Howard — who wound up with 20 points (3 1/2 below his average) and 13 rebounds (two-plus below his usual count) — could only watch somewhat helplessly as Millsap joined Boozer up front and took control on the other end.
"Guys were just finding me in the seams," Millsap said after the Jazz's third stop on a four-game trip that concludes tonight in Miami. "That helped a lot. Sometimes you just have to exploit that and continue to do it."
The Jazz did just that as Millsap went on a personal 13-4 run in the third quarter, pushing Utah's lead from 64-63 to 77-67.
"He made some terrific moves around the basket," Sloan said.
"Paul took over the game," Boozer added. "He just scored bucket after bucket after bucket."
He did, yet it wasn't the only reason Utah won on the road for the first time since Nov. 28 at Philadelphia.
One factor was a newfound sense of confidence the Jazz hadn't experienced for the past month or so.
"Part of it," said Harpring, who spent the last week undergoing testing for gastrointestinal issues, "is just getting guys' heads up and getting our swagger back.
"The biggest thing is you've got to go out there and just play," he added. "You can't worry about missing shots, you can't worry about getting fouls. You've just got to play the game. And when we do that we're a good team."
Another factor was that Utah put together its first complete road game for the first time in a long time.
"The lesson we learned," Williams said, "is that if we play defense like this and we help each other out, then the game comes a lot easier to us."
"We trusted each other, we rotated very well, we showed on pick-and-rolls, we contested their jump shots, we got the rebounds, we got steals," Boozer added. "If we play 'D' like that, we can compete with anybody."
Then there was the reality that Utah didn't permit Orlando to creep back into the game and take over in the fourth, as opponents have throughout the Jazz's recent run of road woes.
This time, the Jazz instead pushed what was a nine-point lead heading into the final quarter to as many as 21.
The end result was an opposing coach finally experiencing the Jazz's blues.
"That team (Utah) plays way too hard for us, and they're way too tough for us, bottom line," an irate Stan Van Gundy said after his Southeast-leading Magic fell to 18-10 overall but just 5-6 in Amway Arena. "We don't play hard enough.
"Not one guy tonight could compete with the guy he was playing against. I'm not saying they don't have the ability to, but they could not tonight. Not Dwight (Howard), not anybody," added Van Gundy, who said his players were "absolutely frightened of contact" and suggested they were too obsessed with scoring. "Guys are very concerned with our offense, in general — how many touches they get, how they move the ball, making sure guys find them when they're open."
Sloan, meanwhile, was singing his no-longer moody team's praises for the first time in forever. "It's kind of amazing," he said. "We were executing our offense better than we've done in I-don't-know how long."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com

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