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Houston • Two games away from the NBA All-Star break, it’s become almost automatic for the Jazz: Win a good one at home, lose a big one on the road.
For a team that was completely rebuilding and had already gone all-in on its youth movement, a back-and-forth sway that ultimately produces little momentum would be tolerable. It takes good teams years to learn how to win away from home, and Utah often leans on four players 21 or younger.
StorylinesIn short » The Jazz hang close through the early third quarter, but Houston takes off late.
Key stat » Houston’s Kyle Lowry scores a game-high 32 points on 9-of-13 shooting .
Key moment » Utah edges within 80-78 with 5:45 to go, but Lowry drains a 25-foot 3 directly out of a timeout.
But the Jazz insist their eyes are set on the playoffs, and it’s the team’s veterans who’ve often given away close road contests this season. With Utah falling back to .500 on Sunday via a disappointing 101-85 loss to the Houston Rockets, Jazz center Al Jefferson acknowledged his team’s repeating on-off pattern is starting to feel like a "roller coaster."
"We play well on the road for some games — the [Feb. 12] Memphis game was a perfect example. But for some reason, we don’t have it every night on the road," said Jefferson, who topped Utah with a team-high 23 points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. "I don’t know what it is or why. I can’t give you [a] quick answer for that one."
Paul Millsap added 22 points, four boards and three steals for the Jazz (15-15), who walked off the court tied with surging Minnesota for fourth and last place in the Northwest Division, as well as 10th in a crowded Western Conference.
After destroying a seven-win Washington team 114-100 Friday at EnergySolutions Arena, Utah again returned to an unforgiving reality. The Jazz host San Antonio (22-9) Monday, then travel to take on the Timberwolves on Wednesday before the All-Star break begins.
"It’s disappointing, man," Jefferson said. "We knew how important this game was for us. We didn’t close it out. I don’t know why."
For all of the progress Utah’s made and the resilient fight the club’s shown this season, the Jazz are just 3-10 away from Salt Lake City. And with the toughest part of his team’s schedule still to come — including away games in early March at Dallas, Philadelphia and Chicago — Utah coach Tyrone Corbin knows his squad’s ability to win on the road could eventually define the Jazz during a lockout-shortened campaign.
"It really is [a hurdle]. We do a pretty good job of taking care of our home business. But you’ve got to win games on the road to have a chance to be in the mix at the end of the season for a playoff run," Corbin said. "We’ve got to get it figured out, man. We’re growing a little bit. But we’ve got to be able to finish games on the road. We’re right in there. That fourth quarter: We’ve got to make sure we do the right things, then to give ourselves a chance to win."
Utah was often exposed during the final two periods Sunday. Houston (18-14) outscored the Jazz 56-39 after halftime, shooting 63.6 percent (21-for-33) from the field and 54.5 percent (6-for-11) behind the 3-point line. The Rockets were deadly during the fourth, hitting 4 of 7 3s as Kyle Lowry and Courtney Lee sank wide-open looks that became game-changers.
After watching Lowry pour in a game-high 32 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including 7-for-8 beyond the arc, Jazz reserve point guard Earl Watson said he’d had enough. From Russell Westbrook and Jeremy Lin to Chris Paul and Lowry, speedy and aggressive point guards have burned Utah all season. With high-caliber 1s shredding the Jazz’s defense and initiating havoc that either results in high-percentage layups for themselves or wide-open looks for teammates waiting along the perimeter, Watson said it’s time for Utah to make a stand.
"We have to start stopping point guards. We haven’t changed our coverage yet. Our coverage has been the same since day one," Watson said.
He added: "If the coverage don’t change, I have to change. … I have to put the referees in a tough position, to either call a foul or let it play. I have no choice. Because I can’t keep letting point guards score. … It’s ridiculous. It’s beyond ridiculous."
Jazz guard Raja Bell (strained right adductor) left the game with 2:57 left in the fourth quarter. He’s a game-time decision against San Antonio. "I tweaked my groin a little bit, and we’ll see how that feels [Monday]," Bell said. … Jefferson experienced stomach pains during the contest. He said "I’m good," though, during a postgame interview.
Jazz-Rockets box score: http://bit.ly/wHrhBu
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Spurs vs. JazzAt EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff » 7 p.m., Monday
TV » ROOT Sports
Radio » 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM
Records » Spurs 22-9, Jazz 15-15
Last meeting » Spurs, 104-89 (Dec. 31, 2011)
About the Spurs » San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili (strained left oblique) and backup center Tiago Splitter (right calf sprain) left a road victory against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday. Ginobili returned to San Antonio on Sunday for further evaluation. … The Spurs have won 10 consecutive games, including six straight on the road.
About the Jazz » Utah small forward C.J. Miles was 1-for-5 from the field Sunday during a road loss to Houston. He’s only hit 4 of his last 22 shots. “I play hard EVERY night .. And that’s all I’m gonna say .. It will come back around .. It always does .. I kno it and You WILL kno it,” Miles tweeted after the game. … Reserve small forward Josh Howard played just 5:03 and has yet to find a consistent touch after returning Jan. 25 from a quadriceps injury.
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