Sloan has high hopes for talented Jazz team Print
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Friday, 14 November 2008 08:18
NBA Headline News

 Jerry Sloan has won more than 1,000 games in over 20 seasons in Utah, so he's had plenty of good teams. None, perhaps, better than the one he has now.
Even after twice reaching the NBA finals with his John Stockton-Karl Malone teams, Sloan believes he is coaching the most talented Jazz club he's ever had.
``Talent, yeah, I'd say they probably are,'' Sloan said. ``But that doesn't mean that they're a better team. They have to prove that they're a better team.''
They may have taken some steps in that direction this week - by losing. Sloan said he has a young group that's ``never had much hardship,'' but things haven't been smooth yet this season, and he thinks teams have to endure some tough times to reach their full potential.
The Jazz began the season without star point guard Deron Williams and key reserve Matt Harpring, and just when they were coming back, starting center Mehmet Okur returned to Turkey to attend to a family situation. That all contributed to two losses in three games to begin an Eastern Conference road trip after Utah started 5-0.
aven't had a lot of that. Our team has been pretty much intact as far as injuries and that sort of thing,'' Sloan said, referring to the last couple of seasons. ``We've had a few injuries here and there, but none for any long period of time. But those things you find out more about your team in those situations than you do if you're 5-0, because everybody feels good.''
If the Jazz are as good as Sloan believes they can be, winning on the road is one way they'll have to prove it. Utah was just 17-24 outside Salt Lake City last season. Win just a few more of those and the Jazz could have earned the best record in the West and home-court advantage throughout the conference playoffs, and even the Lakers wouldn't want to have to win four times on a court where Utah was 37-4 in 2007-08.
The Jazz have two more five-game trips East this season, giving them a chance to show Sloan how much they've grown.
``Just hope we're a lot more competitive,'' Sloan said. ``We were in games last year and we couldn't finish them. On the road, you've got to be able to do that.
``Last year, four minutes to go in a game, you can't make a mistake. We won some games at home the last three or four minutes, but you've got to be able to do that on the road. And I think that's where our toughness and dedication to staying focused on what we're trying to do. And hopefully we can do a better job of that.''
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CALLING FOR BACKUP: The Toronto Raptors survived the loss of their starting point guard last season because they had a quality backup.
Now that T.J. Ford is gone and Jose Calderon is the starter, they no longer have that luxury.
Calderon left in the third quarter of Toronto's 106-96 loss to Philadelphia on Wednesday with an injured right hamstring and Toronto coach Sam Mitchell wasn't sure if he will be available for the Raptors' next game, Sunday against Miami.
There isn't much help behind Calderon. Will Solomon, back from overseas for his second NBA season - his first was in 2001-02 - and 24-year-old rookie Roko Ukic from Croatia are the other point guard options on the roster.
``We have two guys who are trying to learn to play in the NBA,'' Mitchell said. ``You can watch it on TV and you can practice it, but until you get in front of 19,000 people and play against starting point guards and guys who have been in the league and know how to play, there is a learning curve.''
When Ford was limited to 51 games last season, the Raptors turned to Calderon, the Spanish veteran who played so well that Toronto decided to re-sign him and make him the starter, moving Ford to Indiana in the deal for Jermaine O'Neal.
This time, there will be no easy adjustment if the Raptors' floor leader is sidelined.
``We are trying to get these guys up to speed as fast as possible,'' Mitchell said. ``There are no shortcuts. Jose went through the same thing.''
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JUMPIN' JAVALE: Still a rookie only about two weeks into his NBA career, Washington Wizards center JaVale McGee is inspiring some heady comparisons.
In describing McGee's shot-blocking ability, for example, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan thought back to when he played with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Co-captain Caron Butler made reference to McGee and Butler's former Heat teammate Dwyane Wade in the same sentence.
``He's special,'' Butler said.
McGee is all long arms and long legs, and if it seems to opponents as though the kid has a 7-foot-6 wingspan and can dunk on a rim 2 1/2 feet higher than a regulation hoop, well, it's because both are the case.
``You look at him, and you see what he's capable of doing. You see the athleticism,'' Wizards All-Star Antawn Jamison said. ``But what I like about him is that he doesn't back down. He finds a way to get it done.''
gery, the 7-foot McGee is getting a chance to play.
And he's making the most of it, contributing at both ends of the court. McGee already has two double-doubles through five career NBA games, including a 13-point, 11-rebound, three-block performance in Washington's victory over Utah on Wednesday night.
``He was a huge factor in the game,'' Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. ``He blocked shots, made it tough for us to get inside.''
McGee left Nevada after his sophomore season, and was taken 18th overall by Washington in June, making him the first son of a WNBA player to be drafted by an NBA team. Pamela McGee played two years in the WNBA with the Monarchs and Sparks. Before that she also won Olympic gold and played professionally in Europe.
``His bloodlines are genuine,'' Jordan said. ``He's been taught the right away - how to compete, how to behave. He is learning at an early age how to pay attention.''
For his part, McGee isn't surprised that things are coming quickly for him in the pros.
``I don't feel nervous or anything,'' McGee said. ``I just feel like I've got to work as hard as I can - or else I'm going to come out of the game.''
Spoken like a true rookie.
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``STRUGGLING'' SUNS: They went into the weekend leading the NBA in field goal percentage and ranking fourth in scoring. Yet the Phoenix Suns seem to realize that offense won't come as easily as it used to.
That was reinforced Wednesday in a 94-82 home loss to Houston, when the Suns shot just 38 percent from the field.
``We're struggling and we believe in one another, and we just have to keep working together, keep communicating and stay having a positive attitude even when it's difficult,'' point guard Steve Nash said. ``Sometimes we don't have the answers, but I think that optimism and that commitment to one another will pay off one day.''
Those struggles aren't apparent from looking at the statistics. Phoenix was shooting 49.7 percent and averaging 100.9 points during its 6-3 start, and looked like the Suns of recent years when they hung 114 and 113 points on New Jersey and Indiana on consecutive nights to improve to 4-1.
The Suns dropped two of their next four, averaging 82.5 points in the losses. The inconsistency is something new for the Suns, who could almost always count on their offense to carry them through under Mike D'Antoni.
They're still adapting to the differences under Terry Porter, who will have them running less and using Shaquille O'Neal and Amare Stoudemire more. And there won't be the same emphasis on the 3-point shot.
That could lead to some tough nights, particularly for the guards who were used to getting so many good looks from the perimeter in the uptempo system. Raja Bell (0-for-6) and Leandro Barbosa (5-for-15) had a particularly difficult time in the loss to Houston.
``We just have to stay with it and take the high-percentage shot and not rely on the jump shot all the time,'' O'Neal said. ``When we do that, I think we'll be fine.''
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AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington contributed to this report.
 

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