Maybe the Utah Jazz should play their home games in a different arena.
Saturday night at the Delta Center, the Jazz lost their third in a row at home, 120-113 to the Los Angeles Lakers. And they're not just losing at home, they're playing differently than they've done on the road lately."We haven't played with any intensity here," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who showed a little personal intensity with a third-quarter ejection. "We have played under control on the road. Our guys were trying to make the great play here instead of just making the play."
The play that hurt the Jazz most, though, wasn't one of theirs. It was journeyman Laker guard Sedale Threatt - starting only because Nick Van Exel sprained an ankle - who came off screens and knocked down 13 of 19 shots for a season-high 38 points.
Sloan said Threatt has hurt the Jazz in the past, but he thought they were ready for him. Knowing that Threatt likes to go to his left, they practiced chasing him over the top of screens, with someone coming up to help on the backside. But the first couple of times Threatt went over the screen, the Jazz defender went under, no one was around to help, and Threatt stopped and popped. Once he got going, it didn't matter whether the defender (usually John Stockton) went over, under or through the screen.
Threatt said he always enjoys playing the generous Jazz.
"They tend to let you sit out there and shoot wide-open shots," he said.
Another factor was that the Lakers felt a need to bounce back from a humiliating homecourt loss Friday night to the crosstown Clippers.
"Tonight we wanted to redeem ourselves," Threatt said. "Everybody was embarrassed."
The Jazz know that feeling, having now failed to defend their homecourt against, in order, the Timberwolves, Hornets and Lakers.
"You think that home is taken care of so let's go win on the road, then all of a sudden just the opposite happens," said the Jazz's Karl Malone. "It's no fun losing at home."
The Lakers even borrowed from the Hornets' primer on how to beat Utah, coming out high to pressure the Jazz point guard.
"We tried to stop Stockton, make other people become players," said L.A. forward Cedric Ceballos, who finished with 27 points.
"Other players" usually means the Jazz's small forward. David Benoit started this game, played the entire first quarter, scored 10 points, then played eight minutes the rest of the game. His only other points came in the final 15 seconds. Bryon Russell and Adam Keefe both got minutes in his absence.
Sloan said Benoit is effective as long as the opponent's defense allows the Jazz to run. But when the Lakers started getting back, forcing Utah into a halfcourt offense, Benoit was not as helpful.
"In a halfcourt game, they double-team other guys and leave David open," Sloan said. And then, he might have added, Benoit has to hit some outside shots, which hasn't happened much lately.
The Jazz were able to run some in the first quarter, using the fast break to score eight straight points and take a 16-8 lead. But the Lakers adjusted and went on a 13-2 run, taking a lead they would never relinquish. After a sloppy first half by both teams, the Lakers led 60-51, benefiting from 13 Jazz turnovers.
Sloan said the running game is largely to blame for all the turnovers.
"There's been so much emphasis on running," he said. "Maybe we need to crawl the ball up the floor, because when we get in a hurry we throw the ball away."
In the third quarter, the Jazz could neither run nor put together a run. They fell behind by 17 less than three minutes into the period. Sloan got his first T for expressing disappointment after the officials missed a fairly obvious double-dribble call, then got his second two and a half minutes later for clapping his hands and saying to referee Joey Crawford, "Way to go, Joey."
The Jazz couldn't trim the lead to less than double digits until the final two minutes, when Russell and Stockton drilled back-to-back threes to make it 106-99. But the Jazz just couldn't get the defensive stops down the stretch, and the Lakers refused to miss free throws, shooting a perfect 12 for 12.
Vlade Divac scored 18 for the Lakers and pulled down 13 rebounds. Elden Campbell contributed 12 and Anthony Peeler 11.
For Utah, Malone hit 15 of 21 shots for 34 points, against a succession of defenders that included everyone in an L.A. uniform except the Laker Girls, and then only because they didn't make the trip. Jeff Hornacek, despite being noticeably gimpy with a sprained ankle, scored 20; Benoit finished with 14. Stockton hit just 3 of 10 shots for 10 points but had 14 assists.
The Jazz have to remain home (gulp!) for a game Monday against the Portland Trail Blazers before getting to embark on a six-games-in-10-days trip back East.
GAME NOTES: Tom Chambers registered the first DNP-CD (Did Not Play - Coach's Decision) of his career . . . Stockton fouled out for the second game in a row . . . The Jazz outrebounded L.A., 42-32, but offset that with a 23-16 turnover disadvantage . . . The Jazz are getting killed at the three-point line; L.A. made 9 of 22 . . . The last time Utah lost three straight home games was during February and March 1993, when the Jazz dropped four straight at the Delta Center.