Jazz Suffering Through Growing Pains

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    By Devon Black

    The new and improved Utah Jazz have faced a new challenge this week. The team has had its first official losing streak of the 2006-2007 season.

    After a red-hot and league-leading 12-1 start, fan fervor was at a high not seen in several years. However, back-to-back losses to Golden State and Orlando brought the Jazz back down to Earth.

    There”s a lot of basketball left to be played, and this team still has plenty of improvement to make if it wants to make the playoffs and compete.

    “We weren”t going to win 81 games,” coach Jerry Sloan said.

    If the two losses earlier this week were any indication, the biggest problem the Jazz may face this season is their own inconsistency. In fact, the inconsistency has been a trait of this team you can trace all the way back to game one.

    On its way to racking up 12 wins, there were a lot of fourth quarter comebacks required, often after Utah had dug itself into double-digit second half deficits. The mistakes and sluggish stretches have finally caught up with them.

    The team, while fully aware of its own multiple personality struggles, is short on answers.

    “These last two games we couldn”t face it,” Andrei Kirilenko said. “I don”t know what happens.”

    Matt Harpring agreed: “I haven”t figured that out yet either.”

    The head coach is less confused and, really, it doesn”t take too much analysis to figure out what the main problem is. This team is young, and the old master sees plenty of lessons for his underage team to learn.

    For starters, the team is still learning how to play 48 steady minutes, instead of alternating stone-cold droughts with stretches of scoring fury.

    During one stretch of Tuesday”s game against the Magic, the Jazz didn”t score a field goal in six minutes. Orlando”s lead ballooned to 20 points in the fourth quarter before a mini run brought the Jazz back to within single digits with two minutes left.

    Another Jazz comeback? It was too little, too late this time.

    “You saw a different team play four or five minutes in the last part of the game,” Sloan said. “If this team is going to get to the playoffs they”re going to have to learn to play tough games.”

    In reality, the struggles are to be expected. Exactly half of the Jazz”s regular 14-man roster has two years experience or less in the league. Four of them are rookies. Second-year Deron Williams is the starting point guard and his classmate C.J. Miles and rookie Paul Millsap are being called on to make big contributions off the bench. You can also throw rookie Ronnie Brewer into that mix.

    The coach won”t make excuses.

    “We have to play through that,” he insists. But Sloan inevitably understands there will be growing pains.

    “We know what to do but we don”t really believe in it,” Kirilenko said. “It”s like an avalanche.”

    It was a great start to the season, Jazz. Now welcome to reality.

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