Utah Jazz: Team hoping to play well from the start

Published: Monday, Nov. 15 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap, left, is fouled by Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka during one of the Jazz's four come-from-behind victories last week. Utah will host Oklahoma City today.     (Associated Press) Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap, left, is fouled by Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka during one of the Jazz's four come-from-behind victories last week. Utah will host Oklahoma City today. (Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz's uncanny comeback tendencies have not only created an unlikely winning formula.

But their bounce-back-ability has spawned a running joke.

Now when the Jazz fall behind be double-digit points — something they've done in their last five games in almost predictable fashion — many observers chuckle and say, "They've got 'em where they want 'em."

Don't be surprised if the next opponent that goes ahead by nine turns the ball over a time or two just to stay out of the dreaded 10-point-lead danger zone against Utah.

Everybody in Jazzland can laugh about their wild ways now. The Jazz, after all, have spotted their last five victims — the Clippers, Heat, Magic, Hawks and Bobcats — a combined lead of 88 points before snapping out of their funk and rallying to win.

But the team knows its slow starts and pattern of falling behind big is not a sustainable method for victories.

That's why shortly after Deron Williams joked Saturday that the double-digit-rally pattern is the Jazz's game plan, he set the record straight that this habit needs to be broken.

If not, the Jazz's five-game win streak will be.

It's a plan the homecoming Jazz certainly don't want to employ tonight against the revenge-seeking Oklahoma City Thunder.

"We've got to figure out what's going on in the first half. It's just two different teams out there," Williams said. "The first half we don't get out and run, we don't do a good job executing our offense. We want to do it on our own."

By a combination of pure execution and luck, they've managed to gut out wins in the past five games somehow after trailing by an average of 12.8 points at halftime.

In that spurt, Utah has averaged only 36.2 points before the break — while scoring more than 40 just once.

In the second half, it's almost like a new team emerges from the locker room. The Jazz have scored a remarkable 66.8 points coming out of intermission in the past five contests (including three overtime sessions).

"(In) the second half we get going," Williams said. "We get stops. It's a different sense of urgency."

And if this story sounds like one you've read before, it's because everything about the Jazz has a familiar tune the past week.

They've had five foes, five slow starts, five second-half holes of 11 points or more, but they've found five shovels big enough to dig their way out and bury losses that seemed likely.

"We haven't panicked, that's the biggest thing. We just keep fighting," Williams said.

"We know we still got a chance. We're down 20, we talked about getting it down to 10. We got it down to 10, and we were like, let's get it going, and that's what we did."

That spunk and spirit has made for five unforgettably wild adventures and five straight nights of this group not giving up even when everything seemed to be stacked up against it.

"Basketball is a funny game. You're up one day and down the next," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "That's why you always try to tell players, 'Don't play backwards, play forward.' As simple as that sounds, you make a mistake you've just got to learn to play through it."

Jazz guard Raja Bell admitted he'd never experienced anything like it in his first 11 seasons in the NBA.

"It's been a great week," Bell said. "It's been a tough one in that we've had to wait so long to actually start feeling good about a game. We've won them in the last few minutes, in the last seconds, and it's been tough emotionally to be up and down like that, but it's really been a special week."

The Jazz would be scary good if they played the entire game like they have been playing the second halves, which they say to a man is a goal.

"It just seems like we have more confidence late in the game to execute and to buckle down and to get good shots," Williams added. "And we need to do that in the start instead of putting ourself in this position."

Otherwise, the NBA might have to put a banner on the Jazz's bench that reads: "Where amazing comebacks happen."

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