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Utah Jazz are missing key players

Published: Monday, July 6 2015 12:20 p.m. MDT

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As the Phoenix Suns seem bound to discover for themselves tonight, the Jazz simply aren't their usual selves.
They haven't been since the start of the season, 14 games ago.
And they mostly definitely were not during the past week, when they played five road games in seven days — and went 1-4, including a current three-game losing streak, with their lineup adversely impacted every single outing by injuries and/or other matters.
Starting point guard Deron Williams didn't dress for three games on the trip because of the sprained left ankle he sustained in the preseason, and in the other two he said he was at about 80 percent — but looked, some might argue, much less than that.
Starting center Mehmet Okur missed the trip's last four games while in Turkey visiting his seriously ill father.
Sixth man Andrei Kirilenko skipped the final two with a sprained fingertip sustained Wednesday at Washington.
And reserve forward Matt Harpring made his season debut Wednesday in Washington, only to sit out again Saturday in Cleveland because he's still bothered by an ankle that was surgically repaired and subsequently infected in the offseason.
There were other issues that prompted additional absences — Jarron Collins' bad elbow, Kyrylo Fesenko's now-resolved visa problems — but beyond them all was an underlying current of larger on-court concerns.
"Obviously we need to get healthy, of course," All-Star Carlos Boozer said. "But we (also) need to find what this team's made of, because right now we're missing whatever we're supposed to have to finish out games."
Chiefly missing for 6-4 Jazz, of course, are key closers.
Under normal circumstances Williams, Okur and/or Kirilenko would finish. But none have been around consistently lately to do so, and they may or may not be again tonight.
The Jazz are calling both Williams and Harpring "game-time decisions," while Kirilenko (who indicated he may play tonight) is listed as "doubtful." Okur traveled from Turkey back to the United States on Sunday and should be available to play.
That all established, though, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan insists his club can't "worry about 'this guy's hurt' and 'that guy's hurt.' "
That's because he saw bigger problems on a trip in which the Jazz ... led late in the third quarter before losing in Cleveland; were tied late in the third before losing at Charlotte; squandered a one-point lead in the last two minutes at Washington; and started off by failing to rally from six down with 1:24 to go in New York.
"That seems to be our thing right now," Boozer said. "Down the stretch in fourth quarters, we can't finish on the road."
Or, as shooting guard Ronnie Brewer put it, "We've just to go find a way to win, because we can't do anything if other guys are hurt."
At least Sloan was encouraged by the intensity of play he saw in Cleveland.
"Hopefully we learned how to play a little harder," he said there. "If we had played this hard on the other three games that we lost, I think we would have been okay.
"But when everybody always beats us in the fourth quarter, something's wrong about your concentration and your ability to respond to tough basketball.
"That's what a lot of teams do: They win games in the fourth quarter because they're smart and they know what they're doing and they don't make mistakes," Sloan added. "Anybody can play for 46 minutes. I've always said that. You have to be a horse to play the last two, and that's what's important."
Even when three chief horses are missing from the stable, the failure to finish is frustrating indeed to some who've been there for it all.
"(Frustrating's) not even the word," Boozer said. "I mean, I know we've got people out. (But) I don't have to use any excuses. I think we had chances to win every game we lost on this trip, but we didn't."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com

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