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Jazz doze, then wake up for win

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Jazz practiced Tuesday in Minneapolis and Thursday in Philadelphia, then lost the next night in both cities.

Saturday, they had the day off in New Jersey.

Jerry Sloan passed time talking on the phone, searching for tractor parts. But the Jazz coach's mind kept coming back to basketball. Back to his team's three-game losing streak. Back to the way it was playing during one of its worst stretches this season.

"It was one of the longest days of my life," Sloan said.

Sunday, one second made it well worth the wait.

Andrei Kirilenko tipped in a John Stockton shot with 0.4 seconds remaining at Continental Airlines Arena, giving Utah a 91-90 victory over New Jersey and setting off an on-court celebration the likes of which the Jazz have not enjoyed since the last time they won a playoff series.

"I was excited to be able to win that game," said Sloan, who raced to join a group hug that had Kirilenko squished in the middle. "Because we've really been in a funk."

The now 34-25 Jazz had lost not only the three straight but also four of five before Sunday. They were especially on edge after falling Friday in Philly. And they didn't give themselves much chance, frankly, against a Nets club that had been co-leading the NBA's Eastern Conference.

"The way things have been going for us," Karl Malone said, "I don't think anybody would have given us a chance to win this one."

But the Jazz did win, thanks largely to a strong second half that followed another shaky first.

Sloan spent many of the first 24 minutes searching for someone, anyone, who would show some interest, some energy, some heart, some desire.

Some search.

Center Greg Ostertag exhibited so little of any of the aforementioned, Sloan yanked him after four minutes, a missed shot, one turnover and this line from the coach were all he had to show: "He didn't seem to have his mind into it."

By the half's end, everyone on the Jazz bench except trainers, coaches and injured Matt Harpring (sprained ankle) had played.

"I was trying to get somebody to give me some effort," Sloan said. "You know, they started off, ran it right down our throats, and it looked like we were going to just stand there and watch the game all day."

The second half, however, was an impressive display of the play Sloan sought.

Down nine at the break, Utah took its first lead when Kirilenko made two free throws with just under four minutes left in the fourth quarter.

An awakened Ostertag played 23 minutes in the final two quarters, finishing with seven points, a season-high seven blocks, six rebounds and a place back, at least for now, in Sloan's good graces.

Starters Malone and Calbert Cheaney contributed a team-high 20 and 10 points, respectively.

Sub DeShawn Stevenson, picking up extra minutes at shooting guard because swingman Kirilenko slid into Harpring's spot as starting small forward, responded with a career-high 18 points.

"The last couple of times he's stepped out there," Sloan said of Stevenson, "he's played very well, and stayed within what we're trying to do."

Then there was Kirilenko, who was struggling, shooting just 28.1 percent his past five games. He scored 15 on 6-of-11 shooting, and crashed the boards when needed most.

"The second half, especially," Sloan said, "I thought . . . his confidence . . . picked up a little bit."

It certainly seemed present when the Jazz, trailing by one after 24-point game-high scorer Kenyon Martin's layup made it 90-89 with 14.2 seconds remaining, went for the win.

With the Nets playing a zone defense, Stockton drifted low and accepted a return pass from Stevenson.

"We didn't have a lot of stuff to look at," Sloan said. "Karl (Malone) rolled down the lane, Scott (Padgett) stepped back (and) they still had us covered."

Stockton put up a baseline jumper that wasn't even going to catch rim, but Kirilenko popped up in front of the rim and steered the ball back toward the goal.

"We talk about it all the time — going to the basket," Malone said. "And 'Drei was able to get to the basket and tip it in."

But not before the ball bounced a bit, causing Kirilenko great consternation: "Oh, no, no, no," he said. "Oh, yes!"

The bucket withstood a video review to make certain it had beaten the shot clock, and that enabled the Jazz to put losses at Memphis, Minnesota and Philadelphia in their rearview mirror.

"This is a big (win)," Stevenson said. "I think we can build through this."

Sloan, whose club returns home for two games before leaving Friday night on a five-game trip east, sure hopes so. Because until Sunday's second half, he sure was seeing a lot of things better suited for tearing a team down than building one up.

"Everybody focussed on trying to win the ballgame — instead of just saying, 'Well, he made a mistake over there a while ago,' " Sloan said.

"When you're playing basketball, you don't have time to be upset with what somebody else does," he added. "And that seems to have been some of our problem — you know, 'so-and-so did this, so-and-so did that.' "

That sort of thinking makes for awfully long days. Particularly for coaches. And especially for a coach hunkered at a hotel in Jersey, his whole day free.

"There's nothing to do," Sloan said. "No place to go."