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Blowout losses show that rebuilt Jazz still far behind Spurs

Associated Press

5/3/2012 5:43:35 PM

SALT LAKE CITY -- Coach Gregg Popovich modeled his San Antonio Spurs after the small-market Utah Jazz, following the lead of Jerry Sloan, who had a no-nonsense style and hard-nosed players.

If the first two games of their first-round Western Conference matchup are any indication, the Jazz still have a long way to go to regain the swagger of the good old days under Sloan, Karl Malone and John Stockton.

They have lost two games by 46 points combined, including Wednesday night's 31-point blowout loss that had coach Tyrone Corbin talking about starting over. Game 3 is Saturday night.

"We got to learn our lessons from it and scrap it, and then start over," said Corbin, who is looking for his first post-season victory since taking over as Jazz head coach following Sloan's abrupt retirement on Feb. 10, 2011.

The only good news for the Jazz is they have been much better at home, going 25-8, compared to 11-22 on the road during the regular season.

They also score 4 1/2 more points at home, give up six fewer on average and shoot better overall.

Even that may not be enough against a Spurs team that has stars, depth and a knockout mentality.

"It's tough. Tough loss for us," Corbin said of Utah's second-worst playoff loss ever. "But you know what, these guys did what they're supposed to do on their home court and win these two ball games. We got to make sure to get our mindset to go home and win some games."

Corbin opted not to make his team available to the media on Thursday, though players indicated there would be plenty of film study to figure out what went wrong.

Plenty was obvious without looking at replays.

The Jazz couldn't shoot -- or as Popovich said, "They couldn't throw it in the ocean."

Utah shot just 34.4 per cent, and until NBA D-League call-up Blake Ahearn hit a 3-pointer with 29 seconds remaining, the Jazz were 0 for 5 from beyond the arc -- an issue that plagued them much of the year until their late-season run.

They shot 26 per cent from 3-point range in December, 30 per cent in January, 31 per cent in February, 32 per cent in March and 38 per cent in April.

By comparison, the Spurs entered the playoffs as the top-rated 3-point team in the NBA -- shooting 39 per cent and making more than twice as many (562) as the Jazz (273). And Manu Ginobili acknowledges he hasn't even found his post-season rhythm yet.

The players the Jazz have touted as leaders -- Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Devin Harris -- shot just 11 for 33 Wednesday night. Harris, who seemingly found his rhythm in April to get Utah to the post-season, has just three assists and 12 points in two playoff games.

Corbin has walked a fine line all season between sticking with veterans and moving toward a youth movement.

Fans who have wanted to see more out of second-year pro Derrick Favours now have more fuel. While the 6-foot-10 forward was on the bench Wednesday, the Spurs went on a 22-2 second-quarter run.

Of course, the run coincided with the return of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan.

Parker is smart enough to know the series isn't over despite San Antonio's 2-0 lead, especially since it switches to an arena he called one of the five-toughest venues for opponents.

He likened Salt Lake City to playing in Europe, except without batteries or coins being tossed by fans.

"Since I've been here, when it was back with Karl Malone and John Stockton, suddenly there's no more calls," Parker said. "It's like super-physical and you're like, 'What happened?' It's almost like no referees. It's great (in Utah). I like the atmosphere."

Popovich spoke eloquently about the Jazz, and how the organization has done things with class, without braggadocio or "moaning or groaning" to the media.

"They set the tone and example for that," Popovich said of wanting to model his team after the Jazz. "And, of course, Jerry did it on the court with the consistency and hard-nosed players and demanding that all the players compete at a high level unselfishly. We've tried to emulate that as best we could."

While the Jazz are taking steps to rediscover the core that helped them to playoff success for so many years, the Spurs just roll right along.

Parker wants to make sure there's no letup now.

"We definitely know they'll play better at home, with a lot more energy and shoot a lot better," Parker said. "So we have to match that. We don't want to give them any hope."

That's all Corbin can count on at this point.

"The fans have been tremendous," he said. "We play better at home. It's always been that way with a young team."

Notes: Popovich said reserve centre Tiago Splitter (left wrist bone bruise) is probable for Game 3 Saturday. The Spurs will travel Friday.