SALT LAKE CITY — Back in the early 1960s, or about 20-30 years before most members of this Utah Jazz team were even born, there was this great television series called "Route 66."
The TV show was about a couple of young men, Tod and Buz (and later a dude they called Linc for the series' final season), two buddies who spent their time traveling around the country. They moved in and out of the lives of people, helping them deal with their various adversities as this Corvette-cruising couple of guys passed through various cities throughout America along "Route 66."
Well, the Utah Jazz have their own version of "Route 66" — an arduous schedule of 66 regular-season games, crammed into a four-month time frame because of the NBA owners' lengthy lockout that essentially wiped out almost all of the preseason and most of the first two months of what would've been the 2011-12 regular season.
Much like those two young men back in the '60s, the Jazz will be playing "Route 66" as they'll visit a couple-dozen cities among their 33 road games, most of them with just enough time to check into a hotel, go to the arena for shootaround, play the game that night and then quickly head for their next destination.
And now, instead of playing 82 games in a season stretching over almost six months, NBA teams will play 66 games in four months' time. If you do the math, it only comes down to an average of about three more games a month than what they've typically played in the past. That may not sound like much, but it's a schedule that offers them less rest, less time to bounce back between games, less time to recover from injuries and less time to prepare for the next opponent.
But on this "Route 66" — a wild and rugged journey the Jazz hope will lead them to the NBA playoffs — there will no doubt be a few bad bumps and chuckholes in the road, maybe a blown tire or two, and plenty of need for a rest stop whenever they can find one. Don't be surprised if they run outta gas along the way, too, maybe more than once.
And these guys won't be able to call AAA for any roadside assistance, either.
"We want to compete as hard as we can every night we step on the floor," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "Everything else will take care of itself."
That seems to be the team mantra this season — come out and compete every night of the season because, with this team of role players and no real superstars to speak of, they can't afford to take nights off.
"The biggest thing is to compete every night and we'll give ourselves a chance to win," said C.J. Miles, who at age 24 has become the longest-tenured player on the team as he begins his seventh season in Utah. "The biggest thing is, you have to compete to win. So our biggest thing is to come out every night and compete and play hard.
"We're gonna make mistakes, because we have a lot of youth and a lot of new faces in the system, but as long as we're competing and playing hard, we can make up for those things. The biggest thing is come out and play hard and we'll be in the game at the end of the game if we do that.
"There will be nights where the ball won't bounce our way or whatever it may be, but the biggest thing is, every night, we want to come out and play hard," Miles said.
Got that? In case you missed it, the key is to come out and play hard, every night.
Indeed, this particular "Route 66" makes for some interesting scheduling quirks which Jazz fans haven't seen before.
Quirks like playing four games in five nights — a grind that begins tonight on the road against the Los Angeles Lakers, followed by a game Wednesday night at Denver, a day off, and then Friday at home against Philadelphia and Saturday at San Antonio.
Utah plays 18 sets of back-to-back games this season, including six in the first two-plus weeks of the campaign and 10 in the season's first six weeks, along with a back-to-back-to-back road trip in February.
If that's not a recipe for failure, fans, I don't know what is. Of course, every other NBA team finds itself in a similar situation this season as they try to cram their games into a compacted schedule prior to the playoffs.
There is another four-games-in-five-nights stretch in mid-February (Feb. 10 at home against Oklahoma City, a day off, and then three straight road games at Memphis, New Orleans and Oklahoma City from Feb. 12-14).
Stretches of three games in four nights, or four in six nights, can be found throughout, and the All-Star break, from Feb. 23-27, probably never looked so good.
After that, there's a brutal six-games-in-nine-nights stretch that begins with a March 2 home game against LeBron, Dwyane and the Heat and is followed by five road games — Dallas, Cleveland, Charlotte, Philadelphia and Chicago — in eight days.
Another six-games-in-nine-days grind gets under way March 20 at home against Oklahoma City, with four of the next five on the road at Sacramento (March 22), home against Denver (March 23), at Atlanta (March 26), at New Jersey (March 26) and at Boston (March 28).
Utah's youth movement, with only four players over the age of 28, five more in their mid- to late-20s, and four under the age of 21, might actually work in its favor. Those young legs, with much less wear-and-tear than, say, a guy in his mid-30s, might be able to handle the compacted schedule a little better.
But whether or not those young legs can compensate for the team's relative lack of NBA experience remains to be seen.
"Your shots are not gonna fall for you every night, but you can play hard every night," said center Al Jefferson. "We need to be a hard-playing team, and we have to take 'em one game at a time. "We've got to be better defensively. That's the key, that's what's going to win games for us. If we take care of that, I think everything else will work out.
"I think for a short training camp and a short preseason, we got the best out of it and we took advantage of it," Jefferson said. "We feel real good. We're deep, we're deep, we're deep, we've got a lot of guys that can play, guys that could be starters anywhere else in this league. And we've got guys that are young, so we've got to take advantage of it."
Most so-called experts don't give the Jazz much of a chance of reaching the playoffs this season.
Sizing up the schedule, a record right around .500 would be a solid accomplishment for this team. Anything above that should be considered a great success, and a postseason spot would be icing on the cake.
But, realistically, unless everything falls into place and guys like Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap, Devin Harris, Raja Bell, Josh Howard, Miles and Jefferson exceed expectations, it looks like this "Route 66" will wind up with something more in the neighborhood of a 31-35 finish.
Dec. 27 @ LA Lakers 8:30 p.m.
Dec. 28 @ Denver 7 p.m.
Dec. 30 vs Philadelphia 7 p.m.
Dec. 31 @ San Antonio 6:30 p.m.
Jan. 2 vs New Orleans 7 p.m.
Jan. 3 vs Milwaukee 7 p.m.
Jan. 6 vs Memphis 7 p.m.
Jan. 7 @ Golden State 8:30 p.m.
Jan. 10 vs Cleveland 7 p.m.
Jan. 11 vs LA Lakers 7 p.m.
Jan. 14 vs New Jersey 7 p.m.
Jan. 15 @ Denver 6 p.m.
Jan. 17 vs LA Clippers 7 p.m.
Jan. 19 vs Dallas 8:30 p.m.
Jan. 21 vs Minnesota 7 p.m.
Jan. 25 vs Toronto 7 p.m.
Jan. 27 @ Dallas 6:30 p.m.
Jan. 28 vs Sacramento 7 p.m.
Jan. 30 vs Portland 7 p.m.
Feb. 1 vs LA Clippers 8:30 p.m.
Feb. 2 @ Golden State 8:30 p.m.
Feb. 4 vs LA Lakers 7 p.m.
Feb. 6 @ New York 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 7 @ Indiana 5 p.m.
Feb. 10 vs Oklahoma City 8:30 p.m.
Feb. 12 @ Memphis 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 13 @ New Orleans 6 p.m.
Feb. 14 @ Oklahoma City 6 p.m.
Feb. 17 vs Washington 7 p.m.
Feb. 19 @ Houston 5 p.m.
Feb. 20 vs San Antonio 7 p.m.
Feb. 22 @ Minnesota 6 p.m.
Feb. 28 @ Sacramento 8 p.m.
Feb. 29 vs Houston 7 p.m.
March 2 vs Miami 7 p.m.
March 3 @ Dallas 6:30 p.m.
March 5 @ Cleveland 5 p.m.
March 7 @ Charlotte 5 p.m.
March 9 @ Philadelphia 5 p.m.
March 10 @ Chicago 6 p.m.
March 12 vs Detroit 7 p.m.
March 14 @ Phoenix 8:30 p.m.
March 15 vs Minnesota 7 p.m.
March 17 vs Golden State 7 p.m.
March 18 @ LA Lakers 7:30 p.m.
March 20 vs Oklahoma City 7 p.m.
March 22 @ Sacramento 8 p.m.
March 23 vs Denver 8:30 p.m.
March 25 @ Atlanta 4 p.m.
March 26 @ New Jersey 5:30 p.m.
March 28 @ Boston 5:30 p.m.
March 30 vs Sacramento 7 p.m.
March 31 @ LA Clippers 8:30 p.m.
April 2 @ Portland 8 p.m.
April 4 vs Phoenix 7 p.m.
April 6 vs Golden State 7 p.m.
April 8 @ San Antonio 5 p.m.
April 9 vs San Antonio 7 p.m.
April 11 @ Houston 6 p.m.
April 13 @ New Orleans 6 p.m.
April 14 @ Memphis 6 p.m.
April 16 vs Dallas 7 p.m.
April 18 @ Portland 8 p.m.
April 21 vs Orlando 8:30 p.m.
April 24 vs Phoenix 7 p.m.
April 26 vs Portland 6 p.m.
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