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‘The Enforcers’ rally Jazz to another win

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They're the new fan darlings, the shock troops Jazz coach Jerry Sloan sends into games to stir things up, energize a stagnant offense.

They're The Enforcers.

OK, the name is a little corny, but you won't get much argument about the effect they had on Tuesday's game from the Phoenix Suns, who lost to the Jazz for the first time this season, 98-84, largely because of the effort of Utah's second unit.

"Sloan got some of his starters out, put his bench out there and those guys responded and played very well," said Suns coach Scott Skiles. "We never did get any sort of rhythm going after that."

"Their second team . . . got them back in the ballgame and they took over the game," said Suns forward Rodney Rogers.

It's the second time in two weeks that second team has rescued the Jazz from a dismal start. This time the starters fell behind as much as 14 in the first quarter before the backups played the entire second period, outscoring the Suns 33-9.

Fairly incredible for a group that includes a center everyone had long since given up on, a small forward who was playing in Russia last year at this time, a power (sort of) forward who spent most of the past two seasons in Sloan's doghouse, and a point guard who was routinely mocked on talk radio when the team signed him two summers ago.

And veteran Bryon Russell, who gave the squad its nickname.

Why?

"Because we're enforcing a lot of pressure," Russell said, mock-seriously. "We're getting it done."

For the most part, Russell's teammates seem somewhat embarrassed by the new moniker.

"Whatever, man, whatever," point guard John Crotty said, shaking his head.

"That's B-Russ making up silly names," said Scott Padgett, who scored a career-high 17 points. "He's probably going to have a new one by the end of the week."

In light of how they've done by comparison to the starters in some games of late, Padgett was asked how the second unit fares against the first team in practice.

"We hang in there, but they usually win," he said. "Of course, the officiating is always on their side."

Padgett said the second unit found its confidence on Dec. 27 in Portland. In that game the starters got off to a miserable start, prompting Sloan to empty his bench. The subs blitzed the Blazers and Utah hung on for a victory.

"Our confidence has kept growing and growing since that game," he said. "One thing we're focusing on is just bringing energy. Then when someone makes a good play it just kind of steamrolls."

"Energy" clearly has become the keyword of The Enforcers.

"We're playing with a lot of energy, we're playing loose," said Crotty. "It's been a fun run."


E-MAIL: rich@desnews.com