DALLAS – Eight of 12.
Talk about last gasp, this is it for the Utah Jazz. Eight home games among their dozen remaining. It’s the final stand for a team laden with veteran free agents, including four of five starters; a team that prepared to be broken up at the trade deadline by reeling off 16 wins in 23 games, yet was left intact and has since tanked.
Utah is typically a force at home — 24-9 in front of one of the most engaged crowds in the league — and they’ll have to be invincible starting Monday night against Philadelphia. Considering Sunday’s ugly 113-108 loss to the Mavericks was their ninth consecutive road defeat, any home slip-up will serve as sledgehammer to Utah’s eggshell playoff chances.
Utah flew home with the same record as surging Dallas (34-36) and smarting from allowing a 69-69 tie midway through the third quarter to quickly become a 20-point stomping before a fruitless late rally made it look more respectable. The Jazz allowed the Mavs’ starting point guard, 37-year-old D-League call-up Mike James, to to kill them with 19 points and five assists. He averages 5.6 and 2.7.
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin could only shake his head
So eight-of-12 is now something of a rallying cry.
“It has to be, it has to be now,” befuddled Corbin said.
Since the Feb. 21 trade deadline, when either Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap or maybe even both impending free agents figured to be moved to make way for developing big men Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, the Jazz are 3-12.
It’s been almost a reverse effect. Instead of the anxieties and stresses applied by the approaching deadline sabotaging their effort and focus, the Jazz thrived, claiming wins against Miami, Indiana, Oklahoma City and Golden State during that 16-7 stretch from the start of January to the trade deadline.
They even came out of the All-Star break with a 115-101 dismantling of the Warriors 48 hours prior to the deadline.
When management left the team alone to build on a 31-24 record, they’ve flopped. There hasn’t been a road win since Feb. 12 at Minnesota, and Boston, Atlanta and New York have all walked out of Salt Lake City victorious.
Jefferson said the club’s demise and the timing of the trade deadline is merely coincidence, and Millsap didn’t disagree.
“I don’t know, I think everybody’s out there playing their best just like before the trade deadline everybody was out there putting it all on the line,” Millsap said. “This stretch we’ve had a lot of tough breaks, things just didn’t go our way. But we’re not counting ourselves out. We’ve still got a chance.”
Millsap, the Jazz’s elder statesman in his seventh season with the team that shrewdly drafted him 47th overall, said the locker room hasn’t fractured, that the players remain committed to Corbin.
“Absolutely,” he said.
Corbin, however, acknowledged the difficulties he’s had in trying to maximize a roster with four frontcourt players, two proven vets and a couple of emerging, developing talents that all want, and often deserve, the same minutes. (more…)