MINNESOTA — All that stands between the Utah Jazz and a rare winning record on their pre-Christmas road trip is a 6-23 team that's lost six straight.
Done deal? Hardly.
The Jazz (20-9) might feel much more confident about taking a positive mark home on their annual holiday getaway for the first time since 2006 if that struggling squad wasn't the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Two of the T-Wolves' 15 victories last season were, after all, against Utah. Minnesota also had a pair of wins over the Jazz in its 22-win season of 2008-09.
Trust Al Jefferson on that. He remembers very well.
"I know they're going to play hard," the Jazz center and former Minnesota big man said. "We're going to have to go out there and be ready to play, because for some reason we always stepped up and played well against the Jazz when I was there.
"So," he added, "I'm pretty sure they're going to do the same now, especially going against me."
The fact that the T-Wolves have the second-worst record in the NBA and are returning from their own road trip — a winless six-stop journey — won't tempt the Jazz into overlooking Minnesota, either.
Utah already had one too many clunkers of a contest on this trip — a 100-71 loss Friday in New Orleans that reinvigorated the team.
"I think we all know we came out and laid an egg in New Orleans and wanted to make sure we took care of business on the rest of this trip," said Jazz guard Raja Bell, who had 19 points in Utah's 101-90 win Monday at Cleveland.
"So, hopefully, we can regroup and refocus, because Minnesota's a good, young team," Bell added. "They score a lot of points and they've got talent, and if we take them lightly we could be in trouble. But if we do what we're supposed to do, we should be able to go home 3-1."
The Jazz had 2-3 records the past two pre-Noel excursions and went 1-3 in 2007. The 3-2 mark in '06 was Utah's only winning one on this trip (with varying teams, it should be noted) in the past seven seasons.
INJURY UPDATE: Center Mehmet Okur, who is listed as day-to-day, didn't practice with the Jazz in Cleveland on Tuesday morning before the team departed for Minnesota. But he was not sporting his walking boot, and the mildly sprained right ankle that kept him from playing Monday did not swell up overnight.
Okur described his ankle as "better, but it's still sore."
The 6-11 veteran had only played in two games after his eight-month rehab for his ruptured left Achilles tendon when this injury occurred and made him miss his 27th game of the season.
Okur shot around with the team on Tuesday and is crossing his fingers he'll return tonight.
"I'm hoping," he said, "but it depends on how I'm going to feel."
Okur also admitted to being a tad frustrated over his injury situation.
"I was working hard every day," he said, adding that he's just concerned about and unsure how long he'll be sidelined. "Hopefully I'm not going to sit out too long, just keep working at it and try to get better and my legs in basketball shape."8 comments on this story
ANOTHER REUNION: Tonight's game is the first time Jefferson will visit his old playing city as a member of the Jazz. But two former Utah players will also get their first crack at their old and first NBA team.
Center Kosta Koufos was traded to the T-Wolves along with two first-round picks and a trade exception for Jefferson, and point guard Sundiata Gaines was signed by Minnesota as a free agent earlier this season.
Sloan isn't getting caught up in the reunion.
"Life goes on," he said. "We wish them well because they spent time with us and we enjoyed working with them. We wish them well, but that's about all you can do."