Jerry Sloan often talks about playing forward, his way of saying put the past behind you and focus on the moment.

But the Utah Jazz coach couldn't help breaking his own rule Friday night, after his team had put away the Portland Trail Blazers, 93-85, at the Delta Center.

Time and again in his postgame remarks, Sloan compared that effort to the dismal performance that resulted in a blowout defeat Wednesday at the hands of the Timberwolves.

"It was a good win, especially after the loss the other day, to get back on the right track," he said. "The taste of losing is not very good."

Friday's game figured to be interesting, if only because it was a matchup of teams that have shown distinct split personalities this season. Like the Jazz, the Blazers have had their ups and downs.

"They're kind of an X-factor," Jazz guard John Crotty said of the Blazers, with whom he played a couple seasons ago. "You never know what you're going to get."

The Blazers came into this contest having lost three of its last four. They also came in direct from Las Vegas, where they'd spent the past two days as a surprise treat arranged by new coach Maurice Cheeks.

Cheeks may skip the Vegas trip next season, unless there's an NBA team there. His players seemed a step slow at the start, allowing the Jazz to put together a 20-4 run that started four minutes after tipoff. The Blazers never recovered, and the Jazz — unlike some other games this season — refused to blow their lead.

When they came closest, midway though the second quarter, Karl Malone returned from a bench stint to retake control of the boards. Rebounds were a key to the game, as the Jazz posted a hefty 48-31 advantage there, including 18 offensive boards.

"We did a pretty good job on the offensive boards tonight, in comparison to the other night," Sloan said.

There it is again, the reference to Wednesday's game. Sloan said he "was very curious" to see how his team would respond to that drubbing.

"Our team has always done well in that situation," he said. "We've had two or three games where we've been waxed pretty good. But you still have to bounce back. That was probably the most encouraging thing tonight."

The Jazz coach was well-aware that the Blazers came into this game shorthanded.

"Anytime you have Scottie Pippen sitting on the bench, and Bonzi Wells sitting on the bench, you're probably not going to be as good," he said. "That's a common-sense thing."

Wells, suffering from an inflamed left knee, wasn't even on the bench. Pippen, out with a bruised right knee, was, but in street clothes.

So, did the Jazz feel sorry for them? Right.

"They're still a talented team even with those guys on the bench," Utah's Scott Padgett pointed out.

One thing Sloan saw that he didn't like was certain players getting pushed around down low.

"They got 46 points in the paint, and a lot of those were where they just backed us down and we had no resistance," he said. "You have to step up and protect the home front somewhere along the line."

The most noticeable victim of that treatment was Jazz rookie Andrei Kirilenko, who was getting shoved around by the much shorter but sturdier Ruben Patterson when the Blazers were making that second-quarter run. Sloan yanked Kirilenko in favor of Padgett, who did marginally better.

"You can't just let people walk over you," he said. "You have to get your body on people and try to get them out once they get in the paint."

What made winning this game even more urgent, from the Jazz's standpoint, is the fact they were immediately embarking on their annual pre-Christmas road trip, a five-gamer starting with San Antonio tonight.

They didn't want to start that trip carrying the extra baggage of two straight losses. Instead, they leave having won five of six.

"That go-away game is really important, as is that starting game on the road to get you off on the right foot," said Jazz guard John Stockton.

"It sure feels good to be one game under .500 (11-12), instead of six or seven," said Malone. "It will be great to go out on the road for five games and be over .500 when we come home."

Donyell Marshall led the Jazz with 25 points and also had eight boards. Malone totaled 24 points, 13 rebounds, six assists.

Rasheed Wallace led Portland with 18 points.

GAME NOTES: Portland guard Rick Brunson needed stitches under his right eye to close a gash courtesy of an elbow from teammate Zach Randolph . . . Perennial technical leader Rasheed Wallace reportedly has improved his behavior this season but still managed to earn a T in the third period.


E-mail: rich@desnews.com