Brad Rock: Home loss to Boston doesn't obscure Utah Jazz's road growth

Brad Rock: Home loss to Boston doesn't obscure Utah Jazz's road growth

SALT LAKE CITY — It could have been a glorious return for the Jazz Saturday at Vivint Arena, but Thursday’s fender-bender in Dallas intervened. Then came the 112-104 loss to Boston two days later at home.

That’s the problem with letting down your hair at home.

Sometimes you get downright sloppy.

So the Jazz lost to their Eastern Conference look-alike, also a team building from scratch.

“I think they (Boston) have developed an identity, which we’ve tried to do as well,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.

A late run by the Jazz cut a 20-point loss down to respectable size against the Celtics. It wasn’t enough to obscure the fact the Jazz still have growth issues.

A three-game road swing through the South nearly netted three ridiculously easy wins earlier in the week. But midway through their game at Dallas, with a 21-point lead, they got careless. Part of the reason was two of the team’s most serene players, young Rodney Hood and veteran George Hill, were on the bench nursing injuries.

Hill was back on Saturday, but the winning wasn’t.

What would have been a dizzyingly successful week trip tapered into simply a good one. A team that is drawing closer to being fully developed is learning the nuances of being taken seriously. What the Jazz are missing is practice at being a target.

Losing to Boston is no shame. The Celtics have made the playoffs eight of the last nine years, winning a championship in 2008. But qualifying for the playoffs in the East is sometimes as easy as getting a credit card. Boston made the postseason in 2015 with a 40-42 record, good for a seventh seed. (It should be noted Denver, with a sub-.500 mark, could make the playoffs in the West this year.)

The Celtics currently have the second-best record in the East and are 12-10 against Western Conference teams.

Meanwhile, the Jazz are at least making headway. They took Atlanta like Sherman, owned New Orleans like Lafitte. Both were blowout wins. Their 15-11 road record isn’t bad for a team that some felt would be lucky to make the playoffs. Instead, the Jazz have the fourth-best overall record in the Western Conference. Not coincidentally, the three teams ahead of them also have the three best road records in the league.

Winning at home is a must for any good team. But the road in the deal-maker.

As they say in both love and war, if you really want to hurt someone, hit them where they live. The Jazz came to that realization on Saturday, suffering their 10th home loss of the season. With 15 away games remaining — nine against plus-.500 teams — they remain in a place they haven’t often been, i.e. above .500 on the road.

Winning on the road has been an issue even in some of the Jazz’s better years. They were great in their NBA Finals years, 1997 and 1998, wining 26 of their 41 away games each season. As recently as 2000-2001 they won 25. Yet as late as 1993-94, when they reached the conference finals, they had never hit .500 on the road. But the following season they finally broke out, going 27-14. That started a streak of seven straight plus-.500 seasons.

Since then they have done it just once, in 2009-10, when Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer led the Jazz to a 21-20 road record.

Even with the loss in Dallas, the Jazz are winning at the seventh-best road clip (.576) in the franchise’s 42-year history. But Snyder says he has no magic solution to speed up the process.

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“I don’t, unfortunately,” he said.

He went on to add that maturity helps — which they were short of against the Mavericks. Meanwhile, even Hill’s 22-point return didn’t translate to a win on Saturday. Boston led by as many as 23. The clincher came on Isaiah Thomas’ 3-pointer to put the Celtics up 20 with 10:18 to go.

And while the Jazz missed out on the first rule of success — winning at home — the customary road problems are finally clearing up.

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Published at Sun, 12 Feb 2017 07:12:00 +0000