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Considering the way the Utah Jazz have played lately, this was practically a no-brainer.

The Detroit Pistons may not be one of the all-time great teams in NBA history, but they're more than good enough to beat a Jazz team that suddenly is as incapable of winning on the road as it is of playing in the Super Bowl.Even with the Jazz putting together one of their better second halves in recent memory, the Pistons posted a semi-comfortable 87-77 victory, ending a nine-game losing streak to Utah. The Jazz have now lost eight in a row on the road, six of seven overall.

After a string of games in which they'd played decent offense but no defense, the Jazz reversed that trend somewhat. They held the Pistons to 40.3 percent shooting, but they offset that by committing six more turnovers and sending the Pistons to the free-throw line 31 times.

What killed the Jazz was another horrendous start. They actually led six minutes into the game, 15-13. But between then and halftime, they managed to score a paltry 25 points - 11 in the second quarter. That allowed the Pistons to lead by 13 at the half.

"We have a tough time getting started," said Jazz center Greg Ostertag. "We get far behind and have to just bust our tails to catch up."

"We had to fight uphill to have a chance to win, and we never did get up the hill," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Sloan appeared even more frustrated than he's been of late. In the third quarter he got a technical for complaining that young official Bennie Adams was spending too much time explaining every call to the Pistons (which he was). Two minutes later, Adams tossed the ball to the sideline for an inbounds play - underhand, hard, on one hop - right at Sloan, or so it appeared. Sloan turned to see the ball coming and danced out of the way, the ball skipping into the crowd. The Jazz coach immediately turned to the fans and said, "Give me the (bleep) ball." When he got it, he had to be restrained from firing it back at Adams.

Sloan declined to speculate whether Adams had thrown the ball at him.

"Anything I would say would be detrimental to my wallet," he said.

Sloan made another lineup adjustment for this game, returning center Greg Ostertag to the starting five, ending the two-game Greg Foster experiment. The coach's reasoning was that Ostertag might as well learn while he plays, and he did look more active, grabbing 10 rebounds and scoring seven points in 27 minutes. Ostertag also irked some of his teammates - though no one would say so on the record - by trying to fire them up between the third and fourth quarters.

"I was just trying to get them fired-up, and they didn't want to," he said. "I was just yelling."

Karl Malone didn't mention Ostertag by name, but it seems pretty obvious he was talking about the youngster when he said, "It's easy to start talking about what other guys aren't doing. You have to do it yourself."

The Jazz have bigger concerns at the moment than Ostertag's antics, however. Their list of mental foul-ups is mounting - crosscourt passes to nobody, obvious charging fouls, offensive possessions so out of sync they result only in a desperation jumper to beat the shot clock, and then frequently an airball.

A couple of specific examples of mental mistakes:

- Detroit's Grant Hill steals the ball from Bryon Russell, who turns to complain to an official as Hill and Lindsey Hunter race downcourt for an alley-oop slam over lone defender John Stockton.

- At the end of the first half, as Utah is playing for a last shot, Howard Eisley drives but has the ball stolen by Hunter with 1.9 seconds left, which means Hunter would have gotten off a halfcourt shot, at best. But Eisley fouls him, sending him to the line.

Despite all that, the Jazz got within seven a couple of times in the fourth quarter. Both times, however, Detroit - the NBA's best 3-point shooting team - responded with 3-pointers to push the lead back to 10.

Still, the second half was something the Jazz felt they could look on positively, and heaven knows positives have been hard to find.

"We definitely got more active," said Jazz forward Adam Keefe. "When we're active and running, offensively and defensively, we're pretty good."

The Jazz conclude this road trip Monday night in Philadelphia, against the Sixers.

GAME NOTES: Guard Jamie Watson, who sat out the Toronto game with a swollen left knee, returned to Salt Lake on Saturday morning to have an MRI on his knee . . . Ex-Jazz forward Stephen Howard, who was the team's last cut in the fall, was let go by San Antonio, raising speculation that the Jazz might bring him in instead of guard Ruben Nembhard, who is four games into a 10-day contract and played for the first time Saturday (six minutes). If Watson should go on the injured list, the Jazz almost certainly would like to bring in Howard, though there has been some talk the Spurs want to bring Howard back on a 10-day . . . Piston forward Terry Mills has been invited to compete in the 3-point shootout during All-Star weekend, raising the question of whether Stockton - who leads the league in that category - also would be invited. The Jazz guard gave a diplomatic answer when asked how he'd respond to an invitation. "If they ask me, great. If they don't, great."