Having returned home for the Thanksgiving holiday, the Utah Jazz now have the most favorable part of their November/December schedule coming up. It features mostly beatable teams and could give the Jazz a chance to recover from a discouraging road trip.
After what they've been through, the next three weeks look like a picnic.Privately, Jazz players and coaches have worried about this string of home games. If they relax too much after coming home, they could find themselves looking at the rest of the league from the ground level. It's good, they say, to feel comfortable at home. Just not too comfortable.
Monday night the Jazz wrapped a five-day, four-team swing to the East and Midwest, and only have one win to show for it. With a 3-6 record, the Jazz are sixth among seven teams in the Midwest Division.
Utah's home-heavy three weeks begins tonight when the Jazz meet Orlando in the Salt Palace. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m. The game will be aired on KISN-AM (570), but won't be televised.
The Jazz's road problems have been well-chronicled. They played seven of their first nine games away from home; before that were the final two exhibition games on the road.
Now they have 10 of the next 13 games in the Salt Palace, and the need to win there has become crucial.
"The one thing we can't afford to do is relax on anything, the way our record is now," says Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan. "You've got to get after people."
For a brief first-half run, that's exactly what the Jazz did Monday night. They were shooting better than they have all year - over 60 percent through the first 17 minutes. They built their lead to 17 points, using a variety of players to produce points. But then it all came crashing down as the Milwaukee Bucks cut Utah's lead to four by half, then put them away in the third quarter.
The Jazz pleased Sloan by coming from 14 behind to cut the Bucks' lead to six, but they never they got closer.
But Sloan says the Jazz can't worry too much about scheduling or losses. "When things get tough that's the way it goes," says Sloan. "You've got to keep playing. The only way to get out of it is to keep fighting."
Following the Orlando game tonight, the Jazz will take Thanksgiving Day off. Friday, Seattle, 4-4, arrives at the Salt Palace. That will be followed by a road trip to Dallas on Saturday, then three days off before hosting Houston and Minnesota the following Wednesday and Friday.
Sloan says the Jazz are beginning to look more lively after the season-opening trip to Japan, despite their record. The improvement showed most dramatically in the Jazz's better shooting percentage - 55 percent in Monday's game, compared to their season average of 43 percent.
But Orlando probably won't be an easy mark. The Magic lost their first six games of the year, and had lost a league-leading 16 straight home games, until just before the Jazz arrived. Then they beat Dallas, Utah and Indiana to improve to 3-6. Orlando played Golden State Tuesday night on the road and lost 123-120.
The Magic beat Utah 102-99 last Thursday night in overtime at Orlando Arena.