If I were a ticket-paying fan (which I'm not), and wanted to worry about something (which I don't), I wouldn't gripe about the Jazz getting embarrassed by the Lakers on Wednesday, or losing to Denver or Dallas earlier this year.

Those are largely unavoidable.

Scheduling happens.

Rather, I'd whine about smaller stuff.

Like, for instance, the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It's not so much beating the big shots of the NBA the Jazz should worry about.

It's losing to the teams they shouldn't.

Never mind the giants. Beating the Spurs and Magic — who they defeated 120-111 on Thursday — is always a good thing.

But how about just managing the Lilliputians?

While it's true it's an 82-game season, and there are always ups and downs, it's also true this Jazz team is not always paying attention. Otherwise, it wouldn't lose to Sacramento, Oklahoma City and three-win Minnesota. The Jazz did get past five-win Philadelphia, but what I'm wondering about is next week's road game against two-win New Jersey.

The Jazz, who are 13-9, are approximately where they should be at this stage, which is actually fairly frustrating for them. That's because they've defeated San Antonio three times, yet lost to an injury-decimated Houston team, both of which shouldn't have occurred. They've trumped Portland, which has probably surpassed the Jazz as a contender in the Northwest Division, but lost to the Kings.

If they'd defeated everyone they should have, plus won the games they did anyway, they'd be 17-5 and own the second-best record in the West.

It's been a weird ride for the Jazz since their glory days, an on-the-fly education process. Those 55-win seasons don't just arrive via the mail(man) any more. The high point was the spring of 2007, when the Jazz surged to the conference finals before being silenced by San Antonio. Other than that, it's been a learning process. The Jazz have had to practice paying attention every night, and their fans have had to learn to deal with the team being OK, rather than very good.

Fact is, the Jazz aren't a title contender (surprise!). They're not long enough — as Sloan likes to describe size and reach — and they're not defensive enough, either. At the same time, with the exception of a half-dozen teams league-wide, there's nobody they don't have a respectable chance of beating.

OK, that's a fairly long list.

Still, the Jazz should be the seventh-best team in the NBA, not the seventh-best team in the West.

Part of that is due to the absence of Ronnie Price, Andrei Kirilenko and Kyle Korver, all of whom have battled injuries this year. As inconsistent as Korver has been since joining the Jazz, the mere threat of his outside game is enough to change how teams play them.

Get him back and they have to be guarded closer on the perimeter.

But waiting for Korver is like waiting for the end of the recession. When he does come back, it will take weeks to get in shape. By that time, the Jazz's fate could be decided.

Thursday's win over the Magic didn't seem all that likely beforehand. Orlando came in having won nine of its previous 10 games and was 10-2 on the road this year. Meanwhile, the Jazz were coming off that shameful fourth-quarter fainting spell in which they scored only six points against the Lakers — their lowest single-quarter output in 28 years.

In came the Magic with their, well, magical athleticism: Dwight Howard, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, etc..

It didn't help that the Jazz went 10-for-22 on free throws and 2-for-12 on 3-pointers in the first half. The team that made the NBA Finals last year was more than enough for the Jazz to be concerned

In the end, though, the Jazz rolled by outscoring Orlando 38-21 in the third quarter. Which was fairly good news for their fans.

The bad news?

Back-to-back road games at Minnesota and Oklahoma City in late December are right around the corner.

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