Five things that stick out about the Utah Jazz's annual pre-Christmas road trip, which included four cities for the team but five stops for this roving reporter:
1. And the comebacks continue ...
If Kyrylo Fesenko — or anyone else on the Jazz — challenges you to a foot race and offers to give you a 10-step headstart, don't fall for it. This team obviously thrives from behind. And the Jazz made one of their biggest comebacks to date, bouncing back from a truly pathetic 29-point loss in New Orleans to march past Milwaukee, 95-86, the next night after a 900-mile flight from the Big Easy. A few days after that 38-point turnaround, Utah completed yet another of its traditional rallies. The Jazz roared back against Minnesota after trailing by as many as 15 points in the game and a dozen points in the fourth quarter. That was the sixth time they've posted come-from-behind wins after losing by 15 or more, and the 10th time this season they've won after digging themselves into a double-digit ditch.
2. Did you see the Memo?
It had been eight long months to the date of his Achilles injury since Mehmet Okur had played in an NBA game, so it was nice to see the Jazz center back on the court in New Orleans a week ago Friday. Memo put in a lot of post-surgery hours of work to rebuild the strength in his left leg after his Achilles tendon ruptured on April 17. Jerry Sloan joked that Okur will be able to shoot 3-pointers from a rocking chair when he's 70 years old, so the coach isn't worried about Memo regaining his outside touch. Okur admits he is still trying to get back into basketball shape, though — and his recent bout with a sprained right ankle didn't exactly help that seeing as it kept him out of the past two games after he played twice in limited minutes. Jazz fans will get their first chance to see if his shot is, well, on the money tonight against Portland.
3. The Christmas wish list
It wasn't a basketball-related question, but I had fun asking every Jazz player what he'd really like to get for Christmas. The responses were as wide-ranging and interesting, everything from peace, to a guaranteed contract, to a James Bond sportscar, to family time, to socks and briefs or boxers (I didn't ask that overly personal follow up). Hopefully readers enjoyed the Christmas morning feature as players, even if short responses, gave a glimpse into their interesting personalities. (P.S. Fesenko appreciated all Happy Birthday wishes that were relayed by fans. Though he didn't get asked-for birthday texts from teammates, rookies Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans serenated him with the B-day song at practice Friday. Fes was grateful for that, even if it was the worst singing he said he's ever heard. C.J. Miles contends that Gordan Giricek was a worse singer.)
4. Hayward doesn't go wayward
Speaking of the rookies, it's not unusual to see them play in the fourth quarter. It is, however, very rare to see them playing crunch-time minutes. But that indeed was Gordon Hayward out there playing like a seasoned veteran as the Jazz won with a fourth-quarter rally last Wednesday in Minnesota to wrap up their 3-1 trip. The rookie stayed in for all 12 minutes in the fourth, which Al Jefferson claimed was a trust-earning moment for Hayward as far as their coach is concerned. The 20-year-old certainly passed that test after coming up short on some other exams in recent weeks — especially his three invisible starts — so it was a positive step forward for Hayward. Who knows when the No. 9 pick will be given the opportunity again. But the Butler standout said he'll be ready when it happens. Now if we could only hear how he sings duets with Evans.
5. My detour to Pittsburgh
When it comes to the NFL, I bleed black and gold. You could say I was cut from the cloth of a Terrible Towel, if you were into saying weird things like that. Anyway, the Jazz had last Sunday off and played in Cleveland on Monday. When I realized the Steelers were playing only two hours away from C-Town, I felt morally obligated to fork over hundreds of dollars to rebook my flight and buy a ticket to attend Heinz Field for the first time. So what if the Jets beat the Troy Polamalu-less Steelers and my body didn't thaw out until a hot shower in my hotel hours after the game ended. I was as happy to be there as Al Jefferson was to be traded away from Minnesota. Being amongst my people in Steel Town and having my first oppportunity to wave my gold towel sure beat a day off in Ohio. (And, no, big Steelers' fan Deron Williams did not go on the road-trip detour.) I rank the experience higher than the beignets sampled in New Orleans and above riding a roller-coaster in Minneapolis' massive mall. Hopefully, NBA/NFL schedule-makers oblige me next year, too.
Today vs. Trail Blazers, 7 p.m., FSN
Think C.J. Miles will get an open look after hitting seven 3-pointers against Portland the last time they played?
Wed. at Clippers, 8:30 p.m., FSN/NBA-TV
L.A. might try something new and not take a double-digit lead. Clips have blown leads of 18 and 10 vs. Jazz so far.
Thursday at Blazers, 8 p.m., FSN
Yes, both Jazz visits to Portland this season are on the tail end of back-to-back situations. But it didn't hurt last time.
Saturday vs. Grizzlies, 7 p.m., FSN
Granted, Memphis isn't exactly a top-shelf opponent. But an NBA game sure beats making resolutions, doesn't it?
The Big Stat: 125
How many more wins Jazz coach Jerry Sloan (1,211 wins) needs to pass up Don Nelson (1,335) and become the all-time winningest coach in NBA history. If Sloan continues coaching and the Jazz keep winning at their current pace, the milestone would happen in the 2012-13 season.
Who's hot: Jerry Sloan
Jazz coach moved into third place on NBA's all-time coaching wins list.
Who's not: Kyrylo Fesenko
Sank 2 straight free throws but did little else during 4-game road trip.
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