The Utah Jazz's most difficult month of the season came to an end on a slightly off-key note. March's beginning was all optimism and hope; the end had people scratching their heads and trying to figure out the question of the week: What's going on with these guys?
At this stage, not even the Jazz know for sure.They began the month with four straight wins on the road and finished with two straight losses, a pair of well-publicized defeats at the hands of the Clippers and Sacramento.
All things considered, March could have been worse for the Jazz. The month included 16 games in 28 days, 11 of them on the road. They came out of it with 10 wins, six losses, fatigue and maybe a slight case of nerves.
If it's any consolation to the Jazz, the next month should be somewhat easier. They have 12 games in 21 days, six of them against sub-.500 teams. Of those 12 games, seven are at home.
However, the way the Jazz played last week, taking comfort by looking at the schedule isn't a great idea. "People look at the records and say that's a `gimme,' " said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "There's no `gimme's' in this league."
Sloan points out that San Antonio lost to the same two teams (L.A. and Sacramento) on the road the previous week and Phoenix lost to one of the two (the Clippers).
Regardless, the Jazz haven't been themselves lately. In the two road games they shot 45 percent and 39 percent. John Stockton, Thurl Bailey, Darrell Griffith, Delaney Rudd, Tony Brown and Jeff Malone madeonly 32 of 97 field-goal attempts in the two games.
"We have been going through stretches where we needed to work on things so we can get some better shots," said Sloan. "We played hard defensively but we just didn't score."
The lack of good shots, Sloan said, was due to players not running the floor well and not getting the proper spacing on plays. "But we played our rears off," Sloan continued.
In the loss to Sacramento, particularly, Sloan said his team appeared tired. He added that had the Jazz not worked exceptionally hard, "it could have been a 40-point game at half."
As for criticism that they simply lost two games they shouldn't have, Sloan said, "A lot of people have never played this game. No one understood what it was like when we went to Japan, either. How many of those people ever played or coached? This isn't like (playing) high school or college - and I'm not getting down on those people - but this league is different."
Although only the loss of Blue Edwards has been a major injury factor recently, several Jazz players have been hurt to lesser degrees. Bailey is just getting over a bruised shoulder. Karl Malone continues to play with a sore hand. Jeff Malone is limping, thanks to a twisted ankle against the Clippers, and is still having trouble with a groin pull.
Meanwhile, the Jazz are looking toward Tuesday, in hopes that Edwards will play in his first game since Feb. 27. Recovering from a severely sprained ankle, Edwards didn't make the trip to California but may be ready to go Tuesday at Phoenix. "We'll have him work out Monday and see how he does," said Sloan.
Trainer Don Sparks said that although Edwards will continue to have swelling, he could probably play on a limited basis against the Suns.
After working his team out on Saturday, Sloan said it is time to forget their recent woes. "You can't let that bother you," he said. "Now we have four games in five days. Getting prepared for Phoenix is all you can do."