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Numbers tell story of Jazz

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There's no mystery, no secret about what's wrong with the Utah Jazz this season.

The numbers tell us the whole story.

What the stats say is that the Jazz are doing OK in the effort and teamwork departments, while falling short on skills and savvy.

What numbers, you ask? How about these:

Only four teams are averaging more turnovers per game than the Jazz, who are giving the ball away at a 15.2-per-game clip. And the Jazz are forcing just 13.3 turnovers per game, giving them a net minus-1.9, and only three teams are doing worse than that. The league's best team in this category is — a mild surprise — the Wizards, at plus-2.3.

The Jazz are third in the league in assists per game, at 23.0. Only Sacramento and Minnesota are better.

Considering the Jazz's travails at the point-guard position, it's surprising that they are as high as 15th in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio, at 1.51. The league leader in this category, the Kings, are at 1.88. Just for comparison purposes, John Stockton had a career ratio of 3.47.

The Jazz are second in the league in a true hustle statistic: rebound margin, at plus-3.6. Only the Pistons are better, at 4.0. And that's despite the fact they aren't one of the league's bigger teams and were without one of their best board guys, Andrei Kirilenko, for a long time.

Utah ranks 23rd in 3-point percentage, at 33.9 percent. On the other end, meanwhile, they are dead-last in defending the 3, giving them up at a 38.5-percent clip.

That stat is at least partly attributable to coach Jerry Sloan's belief that it's better to give up a 3 than a layup, though he has never told his troops to concede the kind of unmolested shots Jazz opponents have been getting. That's more reflective of a hustle letdown — the one glaring tally against Utah in that category.

Incidentally, the Jazz are next-to-last in number of 3-pointers attempted, ahead of only the Clippers. The Jazz have tried 381, while the season's two most surprisingly successful teams, the Suns (1,060) and Sonics (961), are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively. Phoenix has launched nearly three times as many treys as Utah.

The Jazz are tied for fourth in the league in field-goal percentage, at 46.0. Balancing that, however, is the fact they are 23rd in opponent field-goal percentage, at 45.8.

The Jazz lead the league in personal fouls per game by a fairly wide margin. They average 27.2 per game, two more than the next-closest team, the Nets, at 25.2.

One can only guess at the reason for this. It could be that the Jazz have struggled making the adjustment to the league's new rules, or it could be that their lack of a marquee player — underscored by the lengthy absence of Kirilenko — and their league-leading inexperience level means they get fewer calls from prestige-influenced officials.

Or it could be that they're just a bunch of hackers, although that's hard to believe considering how rarely they get any defense out of their big guys and point guards.

(The most likely scenario is that the referees are making this young team pay its dues.)

Overall, it's not as bleak a picture as you might expect from a team that is 14 games under .500.

One number, however, is a total mystery. The Jazz are a respectable 11-15 against the Western Conference, but they are a miserable 4-13 against the weaker Eastern Conference.

If anyone can explain that one to me, I'd love to hear it.

E-mail: rich@desnews.com