After nearly 20 years of being the Utah Jazz head coach, and about 30 years into his coaching career, Jerry Sloan says he has yet to devise a way to get a team's attention immediately focused on playing games again after a break in the action.
The current dean of NBA coaches, at least in tenure, said he has no formula, no surefire method, to bring a team back together after a layoff.
"No, I'm not in that business. If I was, I wouldn't be coaching; if I was in that kind of business where I could deal with somebody's head, I wouldn't be here," Sloan said before Monday night's first post-All-Star practice.
Like other teams in the NBA, the Jazz hadn't been together as a team since last week. Utah last played, and won, at Seattle last Wednesday, and Sloan said he always has concern about what will happen the first game back.
For Utah, the break may have come at an inopportune time because it had such a nice run, winning 12 of its last 13 and its last 12 at home, and momentum can be fleeting.
"We'll find out what their focus is," Sloan said. "You never know how they'll come back after the All-Star Game.
"We hope that they are (focused) because I think everybody realizes what a tough race we're going to be involved in probably, you look at all the teams and how close we're bunched together, and it makes you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about if you lose a couple games, you're in trouble."
Utah, the first-place team in the Northwest Division by 1 1/2 games, is fourth in the Western Conference with a 34-19 record, still has little margin for error, just like everyone else in the West. Nine teams are playing .615 or better, with Utah at .642.
The Jazz welcome the Golden State Warriors to EnergySolutions Arena tonight at 7.
Golden State, 32-20, .615, is seventh in the West after winning seven of its last 10, and the Jazz expect the Warriors, whom they eliminated in the second round of last season's playoffs, to be focused on avenging that and Utah's two wins over them in Games 1 and 3 of the 2007-08 season.
"They'll probably want payback for those first two games," said point guard Deron Williams, "and it's a big game for them and a big game for us just because everybody's so close in the standings. These games are crucial especially when you play Western Conference teams."
The Warriors didn't have several players the last time the Jazz played them, and Williams said having Stephen Jackson back makes a difference. "He's a big part of their team and a guy that really makes them go."
"That's why we're having practice tonight, to get a chance to get refocused and a chance to get in the lab and get some work done and be ready," said All-Star Carlos Boozer, who had a double-double in Sunday's game to go with the 36 he's had in the regular season so far.
"We've only got 29 games left, so (I'm) looking forward to seeing how the West is going to be won."
Boozer said he's not worried about Jazz focus. "The thing about us, we have the same plays, the same team, we didn't make any trades other than Kyle (Korver) over a month ago, so for us we have the same team in tact."
Second-year guard Ronnie Brewer who like Boozer, Williams and Paul Millsap participated in All-Star Weekend in New Orleans said he expects to have his head back out of the clouds now. "Yeah, we had fun there, but we know it's time for business. It's not how you did in the first part of the season, it's how you finish in the second part and in the playoffs, and we know to get a good seed and homecourt advantage, we have to take care of every game and every opportunity."
"Everyone else in the entire NBA is going through the same thing we are," said the other Ronnie, Price, "so it's going to be who prepared the best the day before and who's mentally ready to play."Following tonight's game, Utah travels to the Los Angeles Clippers Friday and returns to ESA Saturday to face Atlanta, then goes to Minnesota next Monday. It may not be an overly daunting return, but it's favorable "only if we win," Sloan said.
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