NBA: Utah Jazz look strong, but two-month road test awaits
Two years, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. That's how long it takes most NBA teams to learn how to win on the road. And for every good squad that eventually becomes great by claiming victories away from the comforts of home, there are average clubs that continually fall apart and never take the next step because they fail to learn how to win in someone else's building.
Corbin spent 16 seasons playing in the NBA. The first two were filled with constant mental and physical adjustments, as he adapted to new environments and realized the only way to play on a good road team is to become one.
"You're on the road and you think you can do the same things that you do at home, but it's different. Because the arena is different, the lighting is different the time you get in the arena, the amount of time you spend on the floor," Corbin said. "And you're out there on your own, just you and your teammates. â¦ If you get down, you have no one to lift you up but your teammates."
The Jazz (13-9) don't have two years to figure out how to win away from EnergySolutions Arena. They don't even have two days.
A road loss Thursday to Golden State technically marked the start of Utah's two-month road test. But a contest Monday against the Knicks on the World's Most Famous Stage will officially tip off the grind. Starting with the Warriors and ending April 2 in Portland, the Jazz will play 22 of 34 games away from Salt Lake City. A back-to-back-to-back Southern road trip is on the agenda, as are contests at Chicago, Boston, Indiana and Los Angeles against the Lakers and Clippers.
"When I was in Dallas, we took it to the mentality like [the road] was our home court," Jazz forward Josh Howard said. "So that's something that, me personally, I have to speak up and say to these guys."
For all the progress Utah has made during the first stage of a lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, a team blending four players 21 or younger with several proven veterans has undoubtedly benefited from full-throated fans who regularly pack ESA. The buffer will soon disappear. Entering Sunday, Utah had played fewer away games (seven) than any team in the NBA and was tied with Philadelphia and Boston for the most home contests (15). As a result, 26 of the Jazz's final 44 games are on the road.
To forward Paul Millsap, the C word will soon mean more than ever. If Utah hopes to stick together and not fall apart like the 2010-11 version of the Jazz highlighted by an 0-4 East Coast swing Jan. 17-22 that ignited the end of the Jerry Sloan-Deron Williams era the team must stay united even if frustrating road losses start to stack up.
"Chemistry team chemistry on the road," Millsap said. "It's just you and your teammates on the road, and y'all got to stick together. It takes a tremendous focus to play on somebody else's home turf."
There's a flip side to Utah's daunting upcoming schedule, though. The Jazz have continually proven themselves during their first 22 games, refusing to fall backward every time a possible swoon approaches. If Utah leaps over its two-month hurdle instead of crashing down, a team few expected to accomplish much this year could enter April pointed straight toward the playoffs.
"The road's where you find your identity," Howard said.
The search is on.
The test awaits.
Check The Tribune's Jazz Notes blog at sltrib.com/Blogs/jazznotes for exclusive news, interviews, video and analysis.
Jazz at Knicks
P At Madison Square Garden, New York
Tipoff • Monday, 5:30 p.m. TV • ROOT Sports, NBA TV
Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM,98.7 FM
Records • Jazz 13-9, Knicks 9-15
Last meeting • Knicks, 131-109 (March 7, 2011)
About the Jazz • All 13 Utah players are expected to be active. â¦ The Jazz are 4-4 in their past eight games. â¦ Utah entered Sunday ranked ninth out of 30 teams in average scoring (97.3) and rebounds (43.1) but 23rd in points allowed (96.8). â¦ Seven Jazz players are averaging at least 8 points, led by Al Jefferson's 18.5.
About the Knicks • New York is 2-5 in its past seven games. â¦ Second-year point guard Jeremy Lin scored a game-high 25 points and dished out seven assists during a 99-92 home victory against New Jersey on Saturday. â¦ Carmelo Anthony leads the Knicks in points (23.3) and assists (4.3), but is shooting just 39.8 percent from the field and 29.7 percent behind the 3-point line. Home cooking
NBA teams that have played the most home games (entering Sunday, with home record)
San Antonio 13-1
Least away games
(entering Sunday, with away record)
Golden State 2-6
L.A. Clippers 4-4