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Utah Jazz: Team not overconfident about preseason success

Published: Sunday, Oct. 24 2010 10:39 p.m. MDT

Jazz Forward Paul Millsap hoists a jump shot over Kings forward Carl Landry in Utah's final preseason game.    (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Jazz Forward Paul Millsap hoists a jump shot over Kings forward Carl Landry in Utah's final preseason game. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — This version of the Utah Jazz has been together now for four weeks, and they've won every game so far.

Even with that data available, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan still isn't quite sure what he's got on his hands.

It's impossible to tell, really, until the 2010-11 Jazz squad gets a chance to show how it deals with pressures and challenges of the regular season.

Will they keep winning?

Or start wilting?

"People get carried away especially in the exhibition season, about the wins," Sloan said. "We've got a lot of work to do to be able to play like we'd like to play. I think we can be a better team, a better executing team than what we did. I think we can be a better defensive team. It's a matter of getting that done. I don't know how that will work out."

Tangible answers will start emerging Wednesday, when the Jazz open the season at Denver.

Hypotheticals and a couple more practice sessions will be the only things filling the gap between now and then.

It seems likely the Jazz will open the season with the lineup of Deron Williams, Raja Bell, Andrei Kirilenko, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. C.J. Miles, who practiced Sunday after spraining his right ankle Friday, appears to be the team's leading sixth-man candidate.

What happens after that – maybe even before it – remains to be seen.

Sloan doesn't want to get into the specifics of his team's rotation or reserves right now. Fans (and media) will have to stay tuned to see if Earl Watson or Ronnie Price will become the primary backup point guard, to learn whether Kyrylo Fesenko or Francisco Elson will man the most big-man bench minutes and to discover what kind of roles rookies Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans might play.

It's not that Sloan is into keeping secrets. He just has more important things to worry and talk about now.

"It seems as if though those conversations are more important than the outcome of the game," Sloan said at Sunday's practice. "And my job is to try to win the game. I can't worry about all that stuff."

Sloan also indicated it will take time to figure out how tough his team is – mentally and physically. He's not sure how this group will respond to adversity in actual game situations, how the six new guys will mesh with the seven returners and if the players can fully exploit their talent through hard work.

"Talent," Sloan said, "will get you fired – if you don't get out there and have some players who are going to compete and knock some heads around and can take a head-knocking and get up and get after it again."

Like fans, Sloan is anxious to see if that materializes from this team that has shown some exciting potential.

"Sometimes you know your team well enough, but I don't know us well enough now to say that's exactly what's going to be," Sloan said. "We'll have some headaches as we always do in this business. I just hope they can stay together and compete together."

Sloan remains concerned that his players occasionally "get caught in no-man's land" on offense. That happens, he explained, when they rush outside shots before rebounding teammates are in position and then magnify their mistake by not getting back on defense.

That hurts both the offensive flow and leads to poor transition defense.

Do that a couple of times in a row, and the momentum shift can lead to a loss.

The coaching staff is also trying to help players be prepared for 29 different defenses they'll face. It's one thing to know how a play is supposed to work on paper, and it's a whole other thing to respond on the fly when a defender throws a wrench into your plans.

The Hall of Fame coach hopes to impress upon this year's team that one person – or even five guys – can't carry the Jazz's burden. It will take a team to win games and playoff series.

"You look at the Lakers and those teams that win championships; they have a lot of guys that are busting their butts for the team, not for themselves," Sloan said. "We can't make anybody do that. ... You have to have guys that's willing to pay the price and that's through hard work."

Jazz players realize that, too.

"We see our weaknesses and some of the things that we need to improve," new center Al Jefferson said. "But I really think that this is a great team. We have a chance to do something really special."

Through that hard work, of course.

"Sometimes we get in the game (and) we kind of don't run our offense as well as we should," Jefferson said. "We could always get better on defense. Just the little things that can be corrected."

Whether or not they do that will dictate if Sloan and Jazz fans like what they see when they finally know what kind of team they've got this season.

e-mail: jody@desnews.com Twitter: DJJazzyJody

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