SALT LAKE CITY — Even as the Jazz pulled their season record to 3-3 with a 12-point win over Milwaukee on Tuesday, there was the nagging possibility that this might be as good as it gets. Home, hearth, family, friends, victory.
It's a nice deal. Too bad for them it can't last forever.
There's always the dreaded road ahead.
Maybe they should start working on a plan for that, too. It will be here, sooner than they want.
You think life is hard at home? Comparatively, it's a piece of cake — and that's an intended metaphor. Finding good chocolate cake in a strange town isn't easy. Neither is winning.
The Jazz played their third home game of the season, holding off the paper-thin Bucks. That makes them perfect at home and perfectly awful on the road. Tuesday was the second of 12 games this month at EnergySolutions Arena.
On the bright side for the Jazz, that means they can unpack — a rarity in professional basketball. The only times they'll have to get on a plane in January is for quick trips to Golden State and Denver, plus a visit to Dallas. Otherwise, they're as home-bound as a goldfish.
But then comes February: nine road trips in 15 games, and March with 12 of 19 on the road.
In other words, they'll want to win almost every game this month, in order to avert disaster later.
"Absolutely, especially if you're a young ballclub," said Jazz coach Ty Corbin.
Most disconcerting to the Jazz is the fact they are in fact young, which doesn't play to their advantage. Logic would dictate the road favors youth. They have fresh legs and strong arms. But almost inevitably the youngest teams have problems when they hit the highway.
"They struggle with it," Corbin said.
Teams don't get good until they learn to win on the road. The Jazz didn't have a winning record on the road until 1994-95, just about they time they got serious about going to the NBA finals. By that time John Stockton and Karl Malone were into their early 30s and had been in the league a decade.
If ever the Jazz were to have a hand-delivered gift, Tuesday would have been it. They were at ESA, where had already established a modest winning pattern. Milwaukee guard Beno Udrih was out with a bad shoulder. Starting guard Mike Dunleavy also sat out with a groin injury. Center Andrew Bogut was absent so he could attend to what his coach called a "personal matter."
The Jazz's problems so far this year have ranged from defense to shooting to spacing, and points beyond. Corbin continues to experiment with his young lineup. Never mind a large number of Bucks were on MIA list. The Jazz need wins, anywhere they can pick them up.
Although the game wasn't particularly pretty (24 Jazz turnovers), it wasn't awful, either. Corbin stowed it in the popular any-win-is-a-good-win department. But exactly how the Jazz can leapfrog a year's worth of road learning is anyone's guess. One thing for sure is that it can get ugly out there. Early Jazz teams won as few as four road games.
"Young teams don't know how to slow it down or speed it up, or make a play. Runs for the home team can go from two to six points to two, and then the (visiting) teams can't see their way out," Corbin said. "Games become too difficult because of all the pressure to make the right play."
Jazz assistant Jeff Hornacek, who was on the teams that matured on the road, said players "have to learn to play better because the other team is at home. They can't take any plays off."
He added: "A lot of players in this league are great players at home. Then they go on the road and there's quite a dip in their performance. Back in the day with John and Karl, we all kind of played the same on the road as home."
This team, on the other hand, remains winless on the road, still kids in the woods once they leave town.
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