Utah Jazz: Home struggles baffling

Published: Thursday, Dec. 9 2010 11:00 p.m. MST

Utah's Paul Millsap, center, is defended by Miami's Chris Bosh, left, and Dwyane Wade as the Utah Jazz play the Miami Heat Wednesday in the EnergySolutions Arena. Miami won, 111-98. (Michael Brandy, Deseret News) Utah's Paul Millsap, center, is defended by Miami's Chris Bosh, left, and Dwyane Wade as the Utah Jazz play the Miami Heat Wednesday in the EnergySolutions Arena. Miami won, 111-98. (Michael Brandy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — It doesn't quite rank up there with unsolved mysteries like crop circles, flying saucers or Area 51.

But what's happening at Area ESA is perplexing people all over the place — from fans (even perhaps ones from other worlds) to Utah Jazz players who are used to the home team winning there.

The Jazz are heading into the finale of their longest homestand of the season, having lost two of their last three games at EnergySolutions Arena.

Worse yet, 16-7 Utah's last four losses all happened in the place that used to be as unwelcoming for visitors as that enigmatic government-owned chunk of land out in the Nevada desert.

"If you would have told me before the season that we would be a better road team than a home team, I would have laughed at you," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "Hopefully, we'll get it going."

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It won't be easy tonight when the Jazz host a 15-7 Orlando team that most definitely hopes to exact revenge on Utah for its magical come-from-behind win last month in central Florida.

Utah comes into the game with a 9-5 home mark, which is far less intimidating than its 7-2 road record.

Since Nov. 15, Utah has lost to Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Dallas and Miami at home.

"You never want to lose at home, and so we'll have to figure out a way to start winning some games here," Jazz guard Raja Bell said. "I don't really have an answer for it. It's just one of those things. We've played some good teams here, too, but we need to figure it out. We need to win at home."

Or go on the road more often.

Or stay at hotels in Salt Lake City and pretend they're playing away. The Jazz have, after all, won six consecutive games as guests.

"Maybe," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said when that suggestion was jokingly brought up Thursday at practice. "We need to try something."

Not turning the ball over in crunch time would be a good first step.

Turnovers proved costly to the Jazz against Zydrunas Ilgauskas, his three supporting actors and the rest of the Heat in Miami's 111-98 win in Utah on Wednesday.

Utah coughed up the ball seven times in the final period, leading to a 34-20 quarter for Miami and helping the Heat storm out of ESA on a six-game winning streak.

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan admitted that fact cost him sleep Wednesday night.

"It's kind of aggravating. I thought we'd play a little bit better in the fourth quarter," Sloan said. "We turned the ball over seven times and some of those were kind of unforced turnovers. But we've got to move on and try to do a better job next time."

In their four recent home losses, the Jazz have been outscored by an average of 7.8 points in the fourth and 9.0 points in the second half.

"It's something that we've got to turn around," Millsap said. "The good thing about it is we're making up for it on the road. But eventually we're going to have to turn it around. We're going to have to win games at home against these powerhouse teams if we want to make something of our season."

Rebounding continues to be a struggle for the Jazz, too.

They were trending upward on crashing the glass, but Miami manhandled the Jazz on the boards, 42-28, and Memphis earned a 43-38 rebounding edge.

Sloan has noticed a disturbing trend in some of these big Jazz setbacks, especially against San Antonio and Miami. His players are making mistakes and not putting in the effort required to win, which is a deadly combination.

Overall, though, the Jazz have still exceeded his expectations, so he's not ready to panic over some bumps on the, um, home court even if the amount of losses on the Wasatch Front causes some head-scratching.

"I figured we'd stumble a little bit more than what we have," Sloan said. "But we've just got to keep working at it and try to get more comfortable with what we're doing and be a little bit more active."

Otherwise, the Jazz will continue to look as unidentifiable as UFOs that create a stir when green Martians take a spin through the Earth's atmosphere.

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