Embarrassed once at Denver already this season, the Utah Jazz's guards paid heed Wednesday night to what coach Jerry Sloan wanted to do.
Sloan fumes when his team walks the ball up the court.
Wednesday, the guards pushed it from the beginning and, voila, they got (and made) layups. They got (and made) shots within the offense.
They even had time to defend Denver's difficult group of guards that ranges from the strong Andre Miller, who can post up or drive, to the tiny and quick Earl Boykins to a veteran shooter like Earl Watson.
And when they pushed the ball like that, said Sloan, the big guys came along for the ride. It's contagious. And effective.
Utah broke a three-game losing streak and a malaise that had pretty much lasted a good 10 games Wednesday night in the Delta Center, leading Denver most of the night, withstanding a Nugget run to begin the third quarter and pulling away to a much-needed 103-90 divisional victory.
"It's like a little kid getting bullied every day. One day you're going to have to stand up and fight," said Milt Palacio, following Sloan's advice from the day's shootaround. "We fought tonight."
"Tonight, we came out with a different attitude," said Keith McLeod, who played 30 minutes despite some early foul trouble that put Deron Williams into the game early.
Sloan's shootaround edict and the thought of that miserable 20-point loss in Denver went hand-in-hand in lighting the fire. "Definitely. We didn't forget that game. We got embarrassed," McLeod said. "I think guys were a little more motivated today."
"We took the challenge tonight," Palacio added.
"Those two guys just played great," Williams said of Palacio and McLeod, who were the starting combo because Gordan Giricek was out with an inflamed Achilles tendon. Shooting guard Devin Brown, who had 23 against the Nuggets in Denver, played just six minutes Wednesday as the rotating triumvirate of points worked so well.
"They came out with a lot of intensity and set the tone for the whole team, I thought, energywise, pushing the ball up the court. We just got out to a good start — something we've struggled with," Williams said, adding that he also felt a little more comfortable than he has lately since he was out there more.
"We got out and ran, pushed the ball and got some layups and some easy buckets early. That helps out a lot in our offense," said McLeod. "It's a little more smooth."
McLeod was smooth on offense with 7-for-12 shooting and 18 points to go with four assists, and he added six rebounds and a steal and no turnovers.
Palacio was 5-for-9 for a dozen with seven assists in 30 minutes. Williams got 29 minutes but scored just five with three rebounds.
The quicker pace meant Utah could either get fast-break layins or set up shots within the halfcourt set with more time than it has when it eats up the shot clock getting upcourt at a walk. "With the shot clock going down, usually me, Deron and Milt get caught outside, and we got to take the tough shot," McLeod said. "I got a lot of shots within the offense, and I think that kind of helped (Wednesday). Those shots are a little easier."
Now, the Jazz have to think about doing these things consistently, Palacio noted. "We've just got to believe we can do it."
"Denver's been playing well, and we came out and played hard, and we beat them," McLeod said. "I think this will give us a little motivation."