The Jazz started off on another road trip Monday night, desperately looking for — and getting — their first victory away from EnergySolutions Arena in triple overtime against the 1-6 Toronto Raptors. Thus far this season, they are 1-4 on the road, 3-0 at home.
Some say consistently winning road games is the next step for an evolving Jazz team, but, in reality, it’s a huge leap. There’s nothing new about that this year. It’s a road (trend) often traveled.
The Jazz are a franchise seemingly destined to lose on the road. They began that way, and they remain that way. The original 1974-75 team, back then in New Orleans, lost its first 28 road games and didn’t pick up its first road win until February. Last season, the Jazz went 11-22 away from home. The year before, they won 17 roadies and lost 24.
Since 2000-01, when the Jazz won 25 games on the road and lost 16, they’ve had one season in which they’ve won more road games than they’ve lost. That was in 2009-10, when their record was 21-20. The other seasons, in chronological order, went this way: 19-22, 18-23, 14-27, 8-33, 19-22, 20-21, 17-24, 15-26.
During the Jazz’s best seasons in the mid-to-late-1990s, they managed to break the road curse. In 1997-98, they won 26 road games and lost 15. In 1994-95, the Jazz went completely out of character, winning 15 straight on the road.
But those stick out as exceptions.
Clear back in 1992, Jerry Sloan was bemoaning the fact that the Jazz couldn’t take an acceptable number of road victories: “We need to be able to win on the road,” he said at the All-Star break, when the Jazz were 11-16. “We’ve let a number of games slip away already. We can’t do that to have any kind of realistic chance to win …”
Sloan’s remedy for changing that inclination: grow up, man up and stand up.
“You have to have a toughness to win on the road,” he said. “You need better concentration.”
In 2009, he said essentially the same thing: “You’ve got to win games you’re supposed to win. We can’t afford to lose games out on the road. … We’re still maturing as we go along.”
If maturity is what it takes to win road games, the Jazz are forever young.
The flip side to all this, the element that makes it so notable in contrast, is that the Jazz often win a great majority of home games. EnergySolutions has always been like a warm blanket to them, a place where they could find their comfort and play their best ball. Last year, the same team that was bad enough to go 11-22 on the road was good enough to go 25-8 at home.
At some point, if the Jazz want to be taken seriously in the turbo-competitive Western Conference, they will have to let loose of the nursing nipple that is the home crowd and surroundings at ESA. They will have to be able to go out on the road, as they are this week, and win games, not just against hapless Toronto, but also Boston and Philadelphia, and certainly Washington.
That’s what real contenders do. No NBA championship team has won a title with a losing record on the road since the Washington Bullets did it in 1977-78. Karl Malone was once asked what it took to throttle out of the speed weave of losing on the road to winning. He said the difference was “being together, confident and calm.”
Most NBA teams lose on the road. Some group of eggheads did a study on it, and they figured out that the winning percentage of road teams in the league was .399. The reasons for that ranged from the deep reaches of psychology to the tawdry pragmatics of biased officiating.
Either way, the Jazz are at a crossroads where they can blast out of the trend or suffer from it. If they’re talented enough to be undefeated thus far at ESA, tough enough to dial in, find energy, play some defense at home, they should do likewise on the road.
Unless, of course, there really is a road curse with this team, in which case there’s no use even trying to bust out of it.
Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 AM and 960 AM and 97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.