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Utah Jazz: Day of rest gives relief from busy slate

SALT LAKE CITY — Tuesday was an uncommon day for the Utah Jazz.

And not just because they were coming off of their first home loss against the Atlanta Hawks since the beginning of Bill Clinton's first presidential term.

It was a bit unusual for the Jazz, who hadn't been defeated by Atlanta in Utah since 1993, because they actually had the day off at home.

No practice. No game. No media session.

Some participated in a community service "Read to Achieve" program at local schools. But other than reading to students, they had an unusual amount of free time around the house after a long, four-game road trip and their various All-Star break escapades.

Hope they enjoyed their rare R&R at home. Days like Tuesday will be few and far between the rest of the way.

The grind of their season continues tonight when they host the Charlotte Bobcats. For the Jazz it will be:

Their third of five games this week;

Their sixth game in nine days since the All-Star break;

The first of a three-games-in-four-nights stretch; and

A reality-check preview of what March has in store for them. Their busiest month of the season, by far, March includes: 17 games overall, 10 road games, and four back-to-back sets.

That's why they are trying to put Monday's 105-100 loss in their rear-view mirror as quickly as possible. They've got plenty of speed bumps on the road ahead to focus on.

"We can't cry about it all night," Jazz backup center Kyrylo Fesenko said of the loss. "We need to move forward."

They can only hope to do it at the same pace they've been on since January. It will be tough to accomplish during their brutal upcoming stretch, but the Jazz have won 17 of 20 games (the pace required for a 70-win season, mind you).

"We have a tough stretch coming up," Fesenko admitted. "We have a really tough March, so we don't have time to think about only one game.

"So," he added, "we need to be ready."

Interestingly, the Jazz have fared better on the road than at home during their hot streak. In the last 20 games, Utah has gone 8-1 away from EnergySolutions Arena while winning only nine of 11 in front of their own fans. They've actually lost their last two at home, too.

"I think we should protect our home court," Jazz point guard Ronnie Price said.

Tuesday's day of rest isn't the only thing that might spark the Jazz. It should help that Deron Williams plans on playing after missing Monday's setback with a right quadriceps contusion.

Officially, the All-Star point guard is listed as day-to-day with the injury he suffered during Sunday night's riveting rally from 25 points down in Portland.

The Jazz are also uncertain whether they'll have the services of starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko, who missed his seventh game of the season Monday because of lower back issues. Like Williams, Kirilenko is considered day-to-day.

In their absence, the Jazz got some bigger-than-usual performances from a few guys off the bench.

Price struggled shooting — he went 5-for-14 while starting for Williams — but he finished with 13 points and six assists. Fellow point guard Sundiata Gaines played well in a rare appearance, scoring 10 points with three assists in 15 productive reserve minutes.

Fesenko also played tough for a second night in a row, perhaps showing that he might be a reliable option to provide the Jazz with an interior defensive presence that's sometimes lacking.

"That's one of the things we try to tell guys — be ready to go because you never know when your time's going to come and your opportunities you get," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "You've got to be ready to take advantage of it."

They might be counted on again tonight or perhaps sometime in the near future during the season's grinding finale.

"Who knows? We've got guys, you know, they get banged up, they can't play, and somebody else has got to step up," Sloan said. "That's the nature of the business. You're still expected to win. Nothing changes in that department."

e-mail: jody@desnews.com