SALT LAKE CITY —
My daughter rolled out of bed at 7:20 the other morning and said she needed a ride to school in 15 minutes. When I asked if she wanted breakfast, she mumbled something unintelligible. I offered an orange (mostly showing off for the wife), then suggested a donut run, but she (awwww!) declined.
On the way to school, she didn't say a word. I may as well have been chauffeuring a box of Wheaties.
Clearly, she was having a hard time getting going. Yet late at night, she's usually going strong.
I bring this up because she reminds me of the Jazz: sluggish starts and mostly bodacious finishes. Is this a worry? Yes. But would anyone rather have it the other way around?
This, of course, is the spin the Jazz have been putting on it, with good reason. They have come back from double-digit deficits to win 11 times this year. They've been as hard to kill as crabgrass. They trailed by 22 to Miami, 19 to the Lakers and Charlotte, 18 to Orlando and the Clippers. That's not a slump, it's a condition.
On Wednesday, though, it all seemed to catch up with them. This time, they fell quickly behind and never caught up in a 110-87 home loss to Atlanta.
"Rough night," said guard C.J. Miles.
Added Andrei Kirilenko, "We didn't play that well."
No fooling. This time the Jazz scored all of three field goals in the fourth quarter.
Starting slowly isn't the worst thing on Earth. "Seinfeld" and John Wooden took awhile to build momentum, too. The Jazz are still 16-10 when trailing after one quarter. The results overall have been quite good.
While Jerry Sloan would never concede it, the Jazz's biggest worry may not be the slow starts, but injuries. The season isn't half finished, yet already they've lost 47 player-games due to injury and illness. That's more than they lost in all of 2006-07 or 2007-08.
The problem isn't epidemic, yet. From 2002-03 through 2005-06, they missed 961 player-games (240 per year). At the current rate, they'll finish with 105 missed player-games. That's not astounding in itself — the Jazz have had 11 seasons with that many missed games — but it's not encouraging, either.
When John Stockton, Jeff Hornacek and Karl Malone were in Utah, the Jazz players missed just 26 games over one two-season span.
In more disconcerting news for the Jazz, of the 10 seasons they have missed more than 100 player-games, eight have been in the last decade.
In other words, the recent Jazz aren't a healthy Jazz.
It's not just the absences, but who's absent. Just as Mehmet Okur came back after last spring's Achilles tear, he started having problems, first with his ankle, then his back. He missed Wednesday's game, as did Paul Millsap, who was out with a bruised hip. Raja Bell, Kyrylo Fesenko, Kirilenko, Miles, Millsap and Okur have all missed games since Dec. 8. The Jazz aren't nearly deep enough to thrive without them.
Throughout the early season, the talk was that upon Okur's return, the Jazz would be a different team. But so far, Memo has been a footnote. That's not all due to his Achilles; rather, it's because he's been trying to play himself back into game shape. Miles missed two games with the flu, Bell four with a strained abductor, Kirilenko two with a back strain, etc.
Meanwhile, bad play at home, where they've already lost seven games — three more than all of 2007-08 — continues to perplex.
If it's not one thing, it's another.
Sloan called his team "totally confused" at one point Wednesday, adding that it "caused a great deal of mayhem" — which is also a good way to describe 39 percent shooting.
In a match of good-but-not-great teams, the Jazz fell behind by 14 in the first quarter. The main difference, though, was this time there was no resurrection. The Jazz left the court to a storm of boos.
Comeback theatrics can carry a team only so far.
But the loss also illustrated another point: If the slow starts and bad play at home don't get them, injuries might.
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