Utah Jazz conquer Portland, but not their own uncertainties
The Jazz entered the preseason surrounded by uncertainty.
Utah didn't have a true No. 1 star player or a late-game closer, its starting five and overall rotation weren't set, and everything from the team's identity to its uneven balance of promising youth and 30-something veterans created an endless series of questions.
The Jazz exited exhibition play Wednesday shadowed by even more ambiguity. Now, Utah enters the wild unknown of a lockout-shortened 2011-12 regular season with little, if any, clarity.
Those answers will arrive, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said after a 92-89 preseason victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at EnergySolutions Arena before a crowd of 15,367.
Utah (1-1) only has six days left to figure itself out. The Jazz tip off for real Tuesday at the Los Angeles Lakers.
One game after sitting his uninspired starters and turning to four players 21 or younger, Corbin took a completely different approach Wednesday. All 13 active Utah players clocked more than 11 minutes, with reserves such as Earl Watson, Jamaal Tinsley and Jeremy Evans receiving larger roles than starters Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward.
The latter two were plagued by foul trouble. Overall, though, it was a much different coaching tactic than one employed by Portland's Nate McMillan, who leaned heavily on his first five four of whom played 29 minutes or more and used a core rotation of nine players in preparation for the impending start of the regular season.
Determining everything from Utah's starting five to who will come off the bench is still up for grabs in Jazzland.
"We'll look at everything. â¦ We're working on it," Corbin said.
Utah's offense needs the most work. Several players said on-the-court chemistry was a problem during an abbreviated preseason, while key starters acknowledged the Jazz have much to do before they're playing clean, fluid, fundamental basketball.
Only Al Jefferson, Raja Bell and Harris started both preseason games, while Jefferson and Harris never appeared fully comfortable or energized in Utah's slightly reworked offense.
The issues were heightened by Paul Millsap's absence due to right quadriceps tendinitis. Corbin said before the start of Wednesday's game there's no guarantee Millsap will be the permanent starter at power forward once he returns, adding to the confusion.
Harris and Jefferson acknowledged the offense isn't running in high gear, but both said time should fix lingering issues that often rose to the surface during a disappointing 2010-11 season.
"We've got new guys in, we're trying to get to know each other. Obviously it's going to take a little time," Harris said. "Obviously we've got a couple days of practice [left] and obviously [Corbin's] still trying to figure out what that rotation is going to be like. But I think we're moving in the right direction."
The lack of direction appeared to affect everyone from Hayward (three points in 14 minutes, 49 seconds) and Bell (one point on three shots in 20:34) to Harris, who scored 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting but only dished out one assist.
"I think we have a lot of work to do," Bell said. "But I don't know that we're going to be any different [than] any other team is at this point in that regard, just because there hasn't been a whole lot of stuff to get time together.
"And so that will be the challenge for everybody this year, is to be able to get that work done and who can get it done the quickest."
Bell saw positives, specifically pointing out improved defensive rotations, activity and communication. After giving up 30 points to the Blazers during the first quarter, Portland was held to 22 points or less during the following three periods.
The communication will have to improve for the Jazz, as will the clarity.
The real battle is about to begin.
Jazz 92, Trail Blazers 89
R In short • All 13 active players see at least 11 minutes of game time as the Jazz defeat the Trail Blazers on Wednesday.
Key stat • Utah holds Portland to 35.4 percent shooting from the floor.
Key moment • The Jazz outscore the Blazers 27-17 during the second quarter.