SALT LAKE CITY — It's over. The brutal part of the Utah Jazz's action-packed schedule, arguably the toughest in the NBA to date, ended Saturday night in Michigan.
They've spent more nights as visitors than all other 29 NBA teams, and only San Antonio, which played its 40th game Sunday, has taken to the court more times.
While their play has been as erratic as their travel itinerary, the Jazz survived that lockout-season-like schedule with a winning record.
Just barely, though.
Back home Monday night after a 2-1 road trip, the 20-19 Jazz begin a less-frantic stretch that includes 15 of their next 20 games in front of those occasionally zany and boisterous fans of theirs.
Home, sweet 15-0 home record in this upcoming amenable schedule, right?
Not so fast.
"We've got to make sure that we prepare for each opponent, understand what we have to do against that opponent to be effective," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We feel good about playing at home, but it's not going to just happen because we're at home, so we have to play a certain way."
"The biggest thing is just to focus, not to say, 'Hey, we've got 15 of 20 at home,'" Jazz guard Randy Foye said. "Our main thing is just to take it minute by minute, quarter by quarter and understand if we do that we'll be in good shape."
Still, this road-weary group might never have been happier to drive by the intersection of Stockton and Malone or to watch Bear shoot Silly String.
They don't even mind that the NBA schedule-maker invited the Miami Heat to their homecoming party.
"It's going to be a tough game. Always after being on the road, the first (home) game back is tough," Corbin admitted after Saturday's come-from-behind 90-87 win at Detroit.
"But it's the Miami Heat. C'mon. If you can't get ready for those guys, you're doing the wrong thing."
Speaking of the wrong thing, the Jazz repeatedly did that in Miami while getting clobbered by the Heat 105-89 in December. Of course, that did happen 12 games and 23 days ago. And it was on the road — where the Jazz are only 9-15 compared to 11-4 in their own digs.
"It's going to be a new challenge for us, but the good thing is it's at home," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said. "We've got the home-court advantage. If we come out and do what we're supposed to do, it should be a pretty good game for us."
If there's a good time to catch the champs, this could be it.
Miami was in a six-game winning streak when it beat Utah at American Airlines Arena last month. But the Heat (24-11) have become the Tepid since then, going 5-5 in their last 10 and sustaining consecutive losses in Indiana and Portland to begin the six-game Western journey they're on.
Then again, Miami is also coming off of a 128-99 blowout win over the Kings on Saturday. While that's not anything particularly noteworthy, considering the multilayered mess that is Sacramento, the Heat's victory was sparked by an incredible shooting display and 34-point outburst by one of its players.
The disconcerting part is that the hot hands did not belong to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or even Ray Allen.
Try Mario Chalmers.
The guard hit 10 3-pointers in his career-high night, which, according to ESPN, happened to be the first time Miami wasn't led in scoring by one of its Big Three when they all played in the same game.
And those other three? Even though Miami's struggled of late, the Heat displayed their explosive breadth as Wade, James and Bosh each preceded Chalmers in leading the team in scoring in the three previous games.
"We already played them," Foye said. "We know what they're going to do, their go-to guys, their guys that shoot the ball."
"They're the world champion team coming back from last year," Corbin added. "These guys know who they are."
Meanwhile, the Jazz are still trying to completely figure out who they are, although fighting back from surrendering a 15-point lead Friday and then falling behind by 15 before rallying and surviving Saturday certainly showed gutsy character.
Utah enters this game — only one of two contests over the next nine days — having won five of its past seven to nudge itself just above the .500 mark again.
"At this point of time, it's important to get any win no matter where you at or who you play next," Jefferson said. "It's all about getting wins now, man."
Which is why Friday's letdown in Georgia continued to gnaw at him even in the locker room Saturday night after that nice win in Detroit.
"(Friday) night's still kind of a bitter taste in my mouth," he said. "But there ain't nothing we could do about it, just try to move on and try to get these next games coming up."
Personally, Foye can't wait to play James & Co. at EnergySolutions Arena for the first time.
"If," he said, "you're not excited to play against them on your home court or you say you're not prepared to play against them, then you don't need to be in the NBA."
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