SALT LAKE CITY — From a fan's viewpoint, the Utah Jazz's game against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night offered a glimpse into the franchise's past.
The perspective at the end of the Jazz's long road trip was quite a bit different for Al Jefferson.
Big Al hopes his Jazz team, briefly home after a 2-3 journey, will look more like the current Bulls in the future.
"We should work and get like that, because they're a great team," Jefferson said in the United Center visitors' locker room following the Bulls' 111-97 win over Utah.
"We should watch film on them. That should be our goal to be a team like them," he added. "They are just as good on the offensive end as they are on the defensive end."
The Bulls, an NBA-best 34-9, had it clicking from everywhere on the court against the Jazz, that's for sure.
Their inside and post game thrived thanks to Carlos Boozer. Their outside game stretched the Jazz defense all over the place thanks to Kyle Korver. And Derrick Rose kept Utah off-balance with his seemingly unfair athletic ability and talent.
Pick your poison, defenses.
As for the Jazz, well, they're only an MVP point guard and a sharpshooter away from being just like the Bulls. Utah has been fine down low, but its preferred inside-out game is missing the outside part the majority of the time. That was especially evident without its top two regular 3-point threats, Raja Bell (internal matter) and Devin Harris (stomach flu) against the Bulls.
Utah only took (and missed) three 3-pointers, and that lack of an outside punch left the Jazz struggling to find space inside.
"We've got to find someway to be able to have an outside threat," Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward said. "If we don't, they're just going to continue to pack it in on us. It just makes everything difficult."
Though Jefferson and Paul Millsap have been the Jazz's most consistent players this season and lead the team in scoring, the team needs others to be involved. Utah did that better in wins at Cleveland and Charlotte, when Jefferson turned his passing game into a valuable weapon to keep defenses both honest and guessing.
"We've got two very talented post players," Hayward said. "We can't just always rely on them for everything. They can do their thing. I think sometimes we rely on that too much."
Millsap didn't hesitate to call the Bulls the better team. He thinks the Jazz should emulate Chicago on the defensive end where the Bulls helped, rotated well and stymied Utah's offensive rhythm.
"Their defensive philosophy, they get at it," Millsap said. "We've got to take our defensive game to another level. When we stuff the paint, we've got to take it to the next step of getting out there and closing out the shooters at the same time. It's a learning process for us."
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin is confident his club will do just that — absorb the good and the bad from this road trip, and try to implement and improve from lessons learned.
"This is a good group of guys. They have a lot of pride. They're going to continue to fight," Corbin said. "They gave everything they had (Saturday). It just wasn't enough to beat this team on this floor."
But, Corbin added, "We had some growth. We won two games in a row, which was good for us."
At the same time, they had some extended moments in losses at Dallas, Philadelphia and Chicago when their weaknesses were exposed — from outside shooting, to inconsistent guard/wing play, defensive lapses and lack of focus.
"We wanted to win every game. That's kind of obvious," Millsap said. "But we won two games against subpar teams. We fought. It felt like we fought every game we lost, so I guess that's a plus for us. We've still got a lot of learning to do, a lot of things we've got to work on to get better."
Jefferson agreed it was a good first couple of steps to get those wins in the middle of the trip, even if they were against sub-.500 teams.
"We proved that we can win games on the road. We lost against the playoff teams, but going back home we know what we got to do," Jefferson said. "These are some winnable games that we've got coming up (this) week that we can win, even in Phoenix."
Building off of road successes and working to get that 19-21 record back to and above. .500 is a priority to keep playoff hopes alive.
"I feel most definitely it's up for grabs. I feel like we're not in the position we want be in, but we still are in a great position," Jefferson said. "We've just got to put these losses behind us and focus on Detroit, Phoenix, Minnesota and Golden State, and I think we'll be OK. I think we'll be fine."
Ultimately, Jefferson hopes they'll be even better than OK and fine. He's got bigger plans than that for the Utah Bulls.
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