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Utah Jazz: Sloan insists season not over – yet

Published: Monday, Jan. 4 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Utah guard Deron Williams meets New Orleans' Chris Paul in Monday's game.     (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Utah guard Deron Williams meets New Orleans' Chris Paul in Monday's game. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — By now, Jerry Sloan figured he'd have a handle on lineup matters, combination questions and personnel issues.

Instead, his 2009-10 Jazz seem to some like a horror story not even the coolest Kindle can make easier to read.

Yet the morning after a disastrous loss to a Denver team missing injured stars Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, one marking Utah's fourth loss in six outings, Sloan again warned the worrywarts.

"It was like a doomsday (Saturday) night, with the questions I thought I had to answer — you know, 'the season's over,' " he said.

But apocalypse, Sloan promised Sunday, is not upon his Jazz.

Certainly not just one game into 2010, with another coming tonight at EnergySolutions Arena against Chris Paul and a New Orleans Hornets club that's lost six straight in Utah.

"There's a lot basketball to be played," Sloan said.

That established, Sloan did concede that — largely because of early season injuries to C.J. Miles, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Price — the 18-15 Jazz are very much a perplexing puzzle.

"(The injury situation) kind of throws a monkey wrench into things," Sloan said, "because it takes a while to figure out who's gonna start and who's gonna play.

"I think anxiety probably comes a little bit to the players in that situation.

"We're trying to look at different things, to see how we think this guy's gonna play with these guys and that sort of thing," he added.

"And we're still trying to find somebody who's gonna compete harder. We need somebody to compete hard. When we do that, we're okay."

Sloan said Sunday he's considered returning defense-minded rookie Wesley Matthews to the starting lineup over Miles, who underwent preseason surgery to repair a ruptured thumb ligament on his shooting hand.

But he won't for now.

"I don't know just yet," the Jazz coach said. "After watching (film of Saturday's) game, I think I'll stay the same as it was.

"It wasn't just one guy."

Sloan also has closed Utah's last two games — Saturday's, and Thursday's at Oklahoma City — with Price and Matthews playing much or all of the fourth quarter.

It remains to be seen, though, if that will continue going forward. And it's uncertain what other, if any, changes eventually will be made.

"I try to be fair. That's the biggest thing," Sloan said. "I mean, they may not like what I do. I don't think you can get 12 people to like anything you do. You just try to stay with what you think is best for this franchise and go from there.

"There's some that we like," the Jazz coach added when asked about various combinations he's tried, "but is that gonna help us in the long run, or is that just gonna help us in a short period of time?"

It isn't just rough closes, though, that are at the root of Utah's latest woes.

"We have problems starting games, we have problems in third quarters, we have problems finishing games," point guard Deron Williams said Sunday. "So, we just have problems all around."

For that, Williams faults no one in particular.

But he does point out that integrating previously injured players back into the Jazz lineup has proven problematic.

"We were playing our best basketball, and then we just changed everything up," Williams said. "It's kind of frustrating. … But you can't blame everything on Coach, a lineup change. We just have to go out there and play. We're still in the floor, it's still our job."

Sloan, for his part, suggested he'll accept responsibility when his team doesn't perform.

"I've never had a problem with that," he said, "because that's my job, to try to get guys to play."

After all, Sloan added, "We're one of the highest-paid teams in the league, so expectations should be high."

But it's ultimately up to Jazz players themselves, Williams suggested, to reserve course.

"We've got to try to turn things around, just figure some things out internally," he said. "You know, some guys don't have confidence right now. I think that's a big problem.

"A lot of it's just they get frustrated through the course of a game," Williams added.

"You know, if they take a bad shot and they don't come back in for a while, it's tough on them."

Williams cited the case of Miles, a starter all last season.

"He played good in the first quarter, then he didn't get back in (until the second half)," Williams said. "I thought it was funny, but I guess he took two shots Coach didn't like."

Wide-open shots.

"I thought he took good shots. I passed it to him. … I think we need to take open shots or we're not going to be a good team if we don't have confidence."

Like Sloan, though, Williams seems anxious to see improvement — and confident it will come.

"We're not in too bad of a position," he said on the same day Utah sat ninth in the NBA's Western Conference, with the same record as final playoff-position holder Oklahoma City.

"But it seems like the last couple years we've kind of made it a habit of just surviving until the All-Star break, then … we play together," he added. "And we don't want to do that."

It's true that the Jazz are just one win off their 33-game pace from last season, but it took winning streaks of four games in January and 12 in February/March last season to claim the West's final postseason berth.

"I think we're fine," Williams said.

They will be, Sloan agreed, "if we don't have too many battles to fight off the floor."

e-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com

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