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Do Jazz have the desire to regroup?

Sloan wonders whether team can get up off mat

TORONTO — On Wednesday night, in the aftermath of an eight-point loss at New Jersey, he called his club "fragile."

On Thursday morning, practicing in New Jersey before moving on to Toronto for tonight's third outing in a four-game road trip, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan explained.

"Something goes wrong," he said, and "we just kind of seem to fall apart."

Sloan likened his team — on that night, at least — to a boxer who falls to the mat after absorbing just one body blow and never does get back up.

"We didn't show the resilience," he said, "to be able to fight back."

That wasn't the only jab Sloan threw Thursday.

The next, in fact, was packed with a thwack.

"I don't know how dedicated these guys are to wanting to win," said Sloan, who remains haunted by a 56-loss season in 2004-05.

"That's a huge concern that I have," he added. "I said that at the beginning of the year."

And he is saying it again now, just five games and a little more than a week into the 2005-06 regular season. The Jazz have three wins and two losses in those five games.

Sloan suggested that, based on Wednesday's loss, the Jazz's attitude seems to go something like this: "Win as long as I get my points. But if I don't get my points and get some of the other stuff, then I'm not sure (I'm) dedicated to winning that much."

On the surface, that might seem like a direct shot at big man Mehmet Okur.

The Jazz's starting power forward went into the New Jersey game averaging 23.5 points per game and scored only two. He shot just 1-of-5 from the field. He did not pull down a single rebound in 15 minutes and was credited with blocking just one shot while picking up three fouls during that short stint.

As a result, Okur sat for the entire fourth quarter as Utah tried, and failed, to overcome a 15-point deficit heading into the final period.

But it wasn't just Okur who had Sloan seething.

"We have to have everybody 'show up,' " he said.

For pretty much the first time this season, fewer did not than did for the Jazz on Wednesday.

Andrei Kirilenko had his 18 points and seven boards, but that was overshadowed by his defensive struggles against 17-point, 12-assist, nine-rebound Richard Jefferson. Kris Humphries had a decent 11-point, nine-rebound outing before getting in trouble again for shooting too much. Jarron Collins tried to give the Jazz a lift by stepping up his nine-point, eight-boards play in the fourth quarter, but by then that was too little too late.

The rest of the team produced little else, leaving Sloan to rip all for too much shopping and too much "visiting" on one of just two annual trips to the New York metropolitan area.

"I sometimes think that when these guys get out on the road it's a shopping trip, or it's a vacation, or a time to bring the families out and have a good time and that sort of thing," he said. "You'd think basketball would be a little bit more important to them.

"It appeared to me those things were more important than getting ready to play."

The result, from Sloan's perspective: multiple lapses in concentration, including one midway through the third quarter when 21-point-scorer Vince Carter was able to get off a key 3-pointer with time expiring on the Nets' 24-second shot clock and another when Devin Brown failed to mark his man before Zoran Planinic heaved a 77-footer that fell as the third period came to a close.

"You take those six points," Sloan said, "maybe we have a chance to turn the game around a little bit by staying with it. But you let them do that, and they think, 'Well, we're going to win the game anyway.'

"Little things like that break your back," he added, "because you think: 'Oh, gosh, I can't win.' "

That defeatist attitude plagued the Jazz a season ago, and it's one Sloan hopes does not prove catching again this season.

No wonder he deemed his team fragile.

"That's something they can overcome, if they're willing to work at it," he said. "But if they aren't. . . ."

For the remainder of Sloan's trailing thought, one needs to look no further than 56 losses in 2004-05.


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com