PORTLAND, Ore. — In Mayberry, town drunk Otis could reach for the keys and stagger out of his cell in Sheriff Andy Taylor's jail whenever he was sober enough to walk away.

In Utah, unlocking the secret to Portland's 87-73 victory over the Jazz just four nights ago is even easier.

The combination clicks like this: 11 . . . 21 . . . 34.2.

That's layups made, layups attempted and, as a result, a season-low shooting percentage.

"The key," Jazz shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson said, "was we missed a lot of layups."

Coach Jerry Sloan harped on it immediately after the loss, Utah's fourth straight at the time.

Again Monday, fresh from watching film of the debacle in preparation for the Jazz's rematch with the Trail Blazers, the topic again was foremost on his mind.

"If a guys goes in there, and there's space for him to make a shot, and he tries to shy away, and then losses his posture, or whatever, to try to double-pump through something that's not there," Sloan bemoaned, "I don't know what other kinds of shots we can get him.

"That's always been one of the things we've talked about," he added. "We want to try to get layups."

Getting them, though, is one thing.

Making them is quite another for several members of this season's Jazz, including, but hardly limited to, Stevenson, big men Greg Ostertag and Michael Ruffin, even forward Andrei Kirilenko.

A few schools of thought as to why:

PLAYING FOR THE FOUL: Some Jazz players wanting to score inside seem more concerned with trying to draw a foul than simply laying in the ball.

"Common sense," Sloan said, "says you've got to get a foul, or you've got to get the ball in the basket."

Common occurrence lately, however, is coming away with nothing: no foul, no layup, no chance of winning a certain someone's good graces.

"If you go in there," Sloan said, "and nobody touches you, and you don't get a foul (and) you don't get a layup . . . "

Before finishing, the ol' coach shakes his head.

"It's just common-sense basketball," said Sloan, whose club starts virtually every practice with rudimentary layup drills.

Part of the problem may be that today's Jazz players grew accustomed to seeing yesterday's stars — Karl Malone and John Stockton - get both.

"When you watch them play, you try to emulate the same thing they do," Stevenson said. "So you tend to go to the basket, try to get the 'and-one' and complete the play.

"But the way the NBA is," he added, "you've got to have a name."

If anyone with Utah does now, it's first-time all-star Kirilenko: "The only person on the team that really gets that is 'Drei," Stevenson said. "He can go to the basket, and double-pump, and get away with it."

What the rest of the rebuilding Jazz are is a collection of relative no-names, several of whom are learning the hard way they won't get the call, so they may as well just make the layup.

"It's to the point now where we just have to do that," Stevenson said.

PLAYING FOR ESPN: A fancy dipsey-doodle move may make the highlight film, but when the resulting shot doesn't fall, the tape never sees day's light.

Just ask Kirilenko, who in a 5-for-15 night in Phoenix on Saturday had more than one twisting, turning layup attempt counted among Amare Stoudemire's whopping 10 blocks.

"Ten blocks and four steals is unbelievable," said Kirilenko, who prides himself on just such a game. "I can only dream about it."

Or have nightmares.

And just ask Stevenson, whose own double pumps don't exactly always go down. He says he's solely efforting to draw the foul, but . . .

"Some people," Stevenson said, "do do that: go in there, and try to make SportsCenter."

PLAYING TOO SOFT: Talking to his grandson, Sloan might say this: "Try to make the basket. Don't worry about anything else. Somebody may bump you. Somebody may run in front of you all of sudden. They may holler 'boo.' "

Talking to his big men, Sloan might want them to say this: "Can I keep my eyes open, and finish the job of putting the ball up there on the glass so it has a chance to go in?"

For some, the all-too-frequent answer is "no."

"Some people don't like contact," Sloan said. "I can't do anything about that. I can't do anything about it if a guy goes in and he closes his eyes, or he losses the ball out of his hands because he's trying to do something that's not there."

Where does it all leave the Jazz?

When they snapped their losing streak by beating Phoenix, the Suns went to a third-quarter zone, and Utah responded with inside scoring on seven consecutive possessions, including two dunks and a layup from Ostertag, Kirilenko's nifty layup-and-free throw and a couple of inside buckets by Ruffin.

"That's what you'd like to see happen every time," Sloan said.

He knows it won't, as do the rest of the Jazz.

"It's easy to sit there and say, 'He missed a layup,' or 'He did that,' and 'He did this,' " guard Raja Bell said. "But you know, sometimes, in the heat of battle, you're going in there against 7-footers, and it's not a point-blank layup."

Still . . .

"We have to convert those," Bell said, "in order to be a good team."

A key to success even tipsy Otis would not debate.


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com