No doubt about it, the Jazz have hit the Dog Days. Forty-two games into the NBA season, they are in the throes of their worst slump since losing four in a row last November. As they fall steadily behind San Antonio in the Midwest Division standings - thanks to three losses in four games - things aren't going smoothly.
"We're starting to get in those Dog Days, before the All Star break, when things are tough," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan. "You can see your whole season go before your eyes if you lose concentration."The Jazz will see a bad memory go before their eyes Tuesday night in the Salt Palace. The opponent is the Atlanta Hawks; the memory is a 105-87 loss at the Omni Dec. 20.
Lately,the Jazz seem to have reverted to old problems. In a loss to Denver last Saturday night, they committed 21 turnovers. Their shooting has been erratic - 45 percent against the Knicks and Nuggets.
Perhaps most disturbing for the Jazz is who they've been losing to. In their four-game losing streak early in the season, three defeats were against contenders - Chicago, Boston and Milwaukee, while the only loss to a bad team came at the hands of Orlando. But the Jazz's recent woes have been against far weaker teams - Indiana, New York and Denver. Against Indiana, the Jazz gave up 117 points; against New York they allowed 67 points in the first half. On Sunday, Denver scored 120 as the Jazz tried to get in a scoring race with the league's highest-scoring team.
Sloan insists good defense is the remedy to most of the problems and says the Dog Days aren't necessarily the bane of every team. "It all depends on the people," he said. "I look at L.A., they've won 11 in a row. I have a lot of respect for guys like Magic Johnson that compete every day and put out every day."
Of prime concern for the Jazz is the expected absence of starting guard Jeff Malone, who has a pulled groin. He is being listed as questionable for Tuesday's game, but team officials are optimistic he will be ready for the Thursday contest against Portland. However, groin pulls often are slow to heal and can nag a player for long periods.
In Malone's absence, the Jazz went with Darrell Griffith against the Nuggets, followed by Andy Toolson. Sloan wouldn't discuss whether he plans to make any lineup changes against the Hawks.
Although the Jazz made up for the absence of Malone's scoring against Denver - Griffith and Toolson combined for 27 points - they also miss his defense. Denver guards Todd Lichti and Chris Jackson combined for 30 points against the Jazz. Sloan says nobody is playing particularly good defense now.
"None of us played any defense (against Denver), I don't care who's on the floor," said Sloan. "We're going through a stage where we're tying to outscore people and not stopping anybody."
Said forward Blue Edwards, "Because of the adversity we've had, it's harder for us to focus. We need to put things behind us and pick up some momentum before the All-Star break (Feb. 10)."
After playing Atlanta and Portland, the Jazz meet New Jersey at home on Saturday. Their final two games before the All-Star game are a Feb. 5 contest at Minnesota and a home game against Phoenix the following night.
Sloan put his team through a rigorous Monday workout that he termed "one of the best we've had in awhile." During that time they worked on getting back on defense after turnovers - a major problem they had against the Nuggets.
"Our defense has been atrocious," said Sloan. "I don't know how many layups they got driving all the way to the basket."
The Hawks, 24-18, are coming off a Monday night loss at Portland. The loss was their third in a row, following defeats at Washington and Seattle. Their long road swing continues with visits to the Lakers and Nuggets.
Atlanta is led by Dominique Wilkins, averaging 25.6 points a game, seventh-best in the NBA.