The Utah Jazz have some legitimate excuses for their struggles on a recent five-game road trip. Coach Jerry Sloan just doesn’t want to hear them.
After his team rebounded with a strong performance at home, Sloan expects to see more of that type of play Wednesday night as the Jazz host the Milwaukee Bucks.
Utah (7-4) opened the season with five straight wins, but the strong start lost some of its luster during a 1-4 road trip last week. The Jazz dropped the last three games by an average margin of 9.3 points, including back-to-back eight-point defeats against Washington and Charlotte, the teams with the fewest wins in the Eastern Conference.
The poor results on the trip can at least partially be attributed to Utah’s injury woes. Point guard Deron Williams played in only two of the five games - his first two of the season - because of an ankle injury that now has him sidelined again.
Of those players, only Kirilenko dressed Monday, but he made an impact. Kirilenko totaled a season-high 19 points, seven rebounds and two blocks to help the Jazz to a 109-97 win over Phoenix, and the kind of performance Sloan wants to see on a regular basis.
“Where’s it been? That’s the question I ask,” Sloan said. “Where was it? They’re expected to do that every night.”
It’ll be easier for the Jazz to replicate the effort if Okur and Williams can return. Though he didn’t play Monday, Okur was back with the team, suggesting he could play Wednesday. Williams’ status remains uncertain.
Even if neither plays, Utah has to be encouraged by its performance on Monday. The 109 points were a season high, but All-Star forward Carlos Boozer was more impressed with the effort on the other end of the floor.
“It was all defense. We got stop after stop after stop,” said Boozer, who had 21 points and 15 rebounds. “We get stops, we’re good. If we don’t get stops, then we get into trouble.”
Utah has held opponents to 88.0 points per game in its seven wins, but has given up an average of 102.8 in its four losses.
Another strong defensive effort could help the Jazz continue their dominance of the Bucks (5-7). Utah has won seven straight meetings with Milwaukee dating to an 89-86 road defeat Jan. 8, 2005. The Jazz haven’t lost to the Bucks at home since a 119-112 overtime loss on Oct. 30, 2001.
The Bucks could have a hard time ending that drought because they’re dealing with their own injury problems. Leading scorer Michael Redd has missed eight straight games with an ankle injury, and Charlie Villanueva’s been out for four due to a strained hamstring. Both are day-to-day.
Without them, the Bucks lost 114-105 at Denver on Tuesday night.
“We were just incredibly soft and noncompetitive pretty much from beginning to end,” said first-year Bucks coach Scott Skiles, who has stressed defensive improvement from the time he took over the team. “From the moment the ball went up we didn’t have anything from a lot of guys. We’ve got to have a lot from a lot of guys to win a game.”