SACRAMENTO, Calif. — For years, the Utah Jazz have requested the NBA to schedule a pre-Christmas road trip.
Santa Claus can empathize with this year’s version of that holiday tradition.
The Jazz began what’s essentially a two-week journey Tuesday when they flew to California’s capital for Wednesday night's game against the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena.
The frequent fliers will then head to Denver for a Friday night matchup, make a quick pit stop in Salt Lake City on Saturday and then leave town again Sunday to resume the road swing with stays in Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, Charlotte and Memphis.
“The schedule is what the schedule is,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said.
It is, indeed.
To get more specific, here’s what it is: Eight games in 13 days and a total of 6,512 miles in the air, according to the handy WebFlyer.com calculator.
The good news about crisscrossing the country over the next couple of weeks?
Jazz players, coaches, employees in the traveling party and, yes, even beat writers can sing that old Bing Crosby carol, and not just the one about the ground being white at the right time.
“You get home for Christmas,” Corbin said when asked if this trip has any advantages. “Christmas Day at home.”
Ring the bells.
Before then, however, the Jazz have a lot of very good basketball opponents to face, including Wednesday night's rematch with the Kings squad that beat them in overtime last Saturday at EnergySolutions Arena.
“It’s going to be some tough opponents, but we’ve got to play,” Corbin said. “We’re learning. We’ve got to make sure we take one game at a time and understand what gives us a chance against each one of those opponents.”
This will be the second year shooting guard Alec Burks participates in the pre-Christmas roadie with the Jazz (the NBA didn’t begin until Dec. 27 due to the lockout in 2011-12). Last year’s trip was considerably less taxing because it was only a four-gamer. Utah began and ended with wins in Brooklyn and Orlando, but lost at Indiana and Miami in between.
“You’ve got some Christmas shopping, you can do that,” Burks said. “Besides that, it’s basketball.”
Is he really going to go shopping on this trip? “Probably not,” Burks admitted.
The Jazz have long left town during the Yuletide season to help the players remain focused on basketball instead of getting distracted by the hustle and bustle leading up to Christmas.
Veteran Richard Jefferson, now in his 13th NBA season, sees the wisdom behind the strategy. He also believes it could pay off for this 4-19 Jazz team that’s still trying to turn the season around.
“I definitely see benefits,” he said.
Going through rough times and challenging schedules can help strengthen teams later in the year.
“There are a lot of young guys, a lot of guys trying to gain experience,” Jefferson said. “When you get these road trips, sometimes you’ve got to go in the fire to get better and when you come out of it you’re a better team for it.”
Here’s where it gets more frightful than delightful: The Jazz have lost four straight games, continue to deal with injuries to key players, and are just 1-10 on the road this season.
“It’s a chance for us to get out there and grow a little bit as a group,” Corbin said. “It’s a tough stretch, but we’ve got to get through it.”
The Jazz would get a boost if their health would improve. Both Derrick Favors (back) and Marvin Williams (heel) practiced Tuesday before the team headed for the chartered plane, but their availability remains uncertain. Favors will be a game-time decision against Sacramento, while Williams remains doubtful after missing the past four games.
Despite their struggles, the Jazz remain bonded as they head out on this trip, according to Jefferson.
“We’re getting better. I know that the wins and losses aren’t what people (like) on a consistent basis,” Jefferson said. “But in the locker room, we (continue to) get better. We’re staying together. There’s no player-only meetings. There’s no lashing out by the coaches. There’s no doghouses out there. There’s just guys working to get better.”
There's no place like the road to keep that up.