Chicago • It was so perfect it hurt.
Kyle Korver racing along the hardwood, fighting through screens, gracefully slamming to a halt. As soon as the ball touched his hands, he was floating. Once the ball was fired, it was true. The net swayed, United Center screamed and Korver’s dagger was in. Each one stinging, drawing more blood than the last.
By the time the ex-Jazzman was done, Utah had fallen 111-97 to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday. Korver finished with a season-high 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting, drilling 6 of 11 behind the 3-point line.
He was everything Utah (19-21) needed — a deadly outside shooter without a conscience, who can make an opponent pay as soon as their defense collapses in the paint. Making the hurt worse: Korver was everything the Jazz once had.
“He’s one of the best shooters in this league at reading and knowing who he is. … He showed who he is, and that’s why we loved him so much when we had him,” Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said.
Until July 2010, Korver belonged to the Jazz. Then he disappeared during the same summer Utah lost Wesley Matthews and Carlos Boozer. Matthews’ tenacity has never been replaced. Korver and Boozer? They combined for 53 points Saturday, sending Utah back to Salt Lake City with a 2-3 mark during a five-game road trip, at the same time Chicago (34-9) continues to prove it belongs among the NBA’s elite.
The Bulls walked off the court with the league’s best mark, led by Boozer’s game-high 27 points. Derrick Rose, MVP of the 2010-11 season, dished out a game-high 13 assists. And during a night when three former Jazz players —Ronnie Brewer, Boozer, Korver — started for Chicago, the trio combined for a game-changing 64 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists.
“We know when we are shorthanded everybody has to step up and play hard,” Boozer said.
Jazz center Al Jefferson said all his up-and-down team has to do if it truly wants to get better is watch video of the Bulls on an endless loop.
Utah forward Paul Millsap was even more direct.
“They’re just a better basketball team than we are,” said Millsap, who scored a team-high 26 points, grabbed seven rebounds and recorded four steals. “Defensively, they get at it. They stick to what they do. Offensively, they move, they set screens for each other, and help each other out. Things we need to get to doing; things we want to do.”
The Jazz aren’t, and they’re paying the price. Utah will return home tied with an improving Phoenix team for 11th place in the Western Conference, just two games ahead of 13th-place Golden State.
Despite showing some progress during a weeklong road journey, the Jazz ultimately fell backward and proved little. The two teams Utah beat — Cleveland and Charlotte — it should have. The Jazz’s three losses — Dallas, Philadelphia, Chicago — represented everything Utah lacks while highlighting a divide that’s only growing as a lockout-shortened season moves into its third and final stage.
The Jazz’s offense has become so predictable opponents are daring Utah to simply shoot a 3 — the Jazz only took three against the Bulls, making none. Meanwhile, Utah’s defense is prone to allowing game-changing runs, as it did during all three of its road-trip losses.
“We’ve got to find some way to be able to have an outside [offensive] threat,” Utah forward Gordon Hayward said. “If we don’t, they’re just going to continue to just pack it in on us, and it just makes everything difficult. We’ve got to find some way to get 3s up, though. You can’t make 3s if you don’t shoot ’em.”
Despite falling further below .500 and failing to gain traction in the West, Jefferson still saw light. Twenty-six games remain for Utah, and Big Al believes his team is closer to the playoffs than the lottery.
“I feel like most definitely [the postseason] is up for grabs,” Jefferson said. “We’re not in the position that we want to be in, but we are still in a great position.”
Jazz starters Raja Bell (internal matter) and Devin Harris (flu) were inactive. Earl Watson and Hayward replaced them. … Chicago starters Luol Deng and Joakim Noah were also inactive.
email@example.com Twitter: @tribjazz facebook.com/tribjazz
Bulls 111, Jazz 97
R In short • The Jazz go 2-3 on a five-game road trip, ending the journey with a 111-97 defeat to Chicago.
Key stat • Ex-Utah players Kyle Korver, Carlos Boozer and Ronnie Brewer combine for 64 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists.
Key moment • Leading by eight, the Bulls put Utah away with a 22-12 run.