Any time a coach drops the word "cliques" and the phrase "ice-pick wars" into the same 10-minute question-and-answer session, one has a tendency to suspect something might be up.

And it can't be a good thing.

Jerry Sloan did employ both Tuesday morning, a pre-emptive strike from a coach who — without being specific — seems rather unhappy with some of what he sees from his 1-3 team.

"You see it coming a little bit, and you try to throw a little water on the fire to let people know that if that's the way it's gonna be, then I'm gonna be just the opposite," said Sloan, whose Jazz face Detroit tonight at the Delta Center. "I can be pretty patient with what I've done, and the way I've coached for years. But . . . I'm not gonna go down easy. I never have.

"I'm not gonna go down in this business and accept losing," added Sloan, who as the Jazz's head coach since 1988 is tenured longer with the same team than any coach in major American professional sports. "I understand losing, but I've never accepted it in my lifetime — and I never will."

The Jazz have been losing a lot to open the 2002-03 NBA season.

More critically, they weren't even in it at either the beginning, the end, or both the beginning and the end of those three losses — the latest coming Sunday at Seattle, where the Sonics led by as many as 26 points before winning 91-77.

That has Sloan concerned.

"We still lack the ability to be able to recognize certain things on the floor —- when teams do certain things to us," he said. "We've had a difficult time making shots, and all those things become a little bit more difficult when you lose a couple of ballgames.

"As long as we can keep guys together and keep them working, we'll be all right," Sloan added. "But if we don't, we're gonna have some wars to fight, battles to fight. That's just part of it."

Like losing, Sloan understands that. But he does not accept it.

To that end, the Jazz took part in a previously unplanned practice Monday — one that came the morning

after a stretch in which they played four games in five nights in four different time zones.

Running was the order of the day —- "to see if that'll help take some of the talking out of them," said Sloan, who also practiced his club, as scheduled, Tuesday morning.

"They like to talk when you don't work 'em. But when you work 'em, you don't hear much talking," the Jazz coach said. "And I've always felt like you have a lot better chance of succeeding if you're not talking all the time. That's all I was trying to do — try to cut up the little cliques and stuff that start to form."

Ah, cliques.

And what of ice picks?

"Our guys have to learn to be a little bit tougher," Sloan said, "and fight through some tough times — because we have a tendency now to feel sorry for ourselves.

"We'll get a little bit better, I think, as time goes on . . . if we can just keep the ice-pick wars down to a minimum."

If it all sounds like a team that could be headed for trouble, perhaps it is only because that is what Sloan is trying to avoid.

He dealt with selfishness among some Jazz players last season, and he doesn't want to spend all this season doing the same.

"We have problems, I don't shy away from them," Sloan said. "I've been able to deal with problems. Maybe not the way that they'd like for them to be dealt with, but I've always been able to deal with them."

In other words, practice — even if guys may be dog-tired before the workouts get under way.

"If I can't get them to work harder on the floor (in games)," Sloan said, "I'll get the money out of them out there on the practice facility.

"I'll be patient for a while, but when it comes over and over again — things that we should know what we're doing — the only way I know to get their attention to be able to do it is to practice," he added. "Now I've never practiced longer than two hours. But I think in two hours' time I can get some work out of them. If I can't, then somebody else will coach them."

And make no mistake: Sloan does want to coach them.

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"Guys are still a little uncomfortable with some of the things we're doing," he said. "There's probably some ideas that they have (that) are maybe better than mine. I don't have a problem with that. Everybody's got ideas.

"But I'm here to coach — and they'll have to go and do it my way in order for it to have a chance to work, because I've played on teams where you had three different philosophies. And that don't work. That's as simple as that. And I tell our players: 'Hey, I don't have all the answers to this game. But I'm here to try to make it work for everybody.' "

Sans cliques, with divisive ice picks packed.