(AP) — Coming off two fantastic offensive performances, the Utah Jazz felt good about themselves heading into a five-game road trip.
Four games in, that confidence has taken a big hit – and Tuesday night’s finale doesn’t seem likely to restore it.
The Jazz try to avoid their first 0-5 road trip in nearly six years by doing something they haven’t done in more than five years and 16 games – beat the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.
Utah (27-17) went into the trip on a three-game winning streak, averaging 126.0 points and shooting 55.1 percent in its last two home games against a pair of Eastern Conference opponents.
That hot shooting disappeared on the Eastern portion of the Jazz’s five-game trip. Utah shot 42.2 percent and averaged just 91.8 points in dropping all four games, with Saturday’s 96-85 loss at Philadelphia the third to a sub-.500 opponent.
“We’ve lost our focus,” coach Jerry Sloan said. “I think we’re feeling sorry for ourselves. … Our energy level has been down this whole trip.”
The Jazz haven’t had a winless trip of this length since going 0-5 from March 13-19, 2005 – three months before selecting Deron Williams with the No. 3 pick in the NBA draft.
Williams had five points off the bench in a 98-94 road win against the Lakers on Jan. 1, 2006 – a game in which Kobe Bryant was suspended – and that’s the only time the All-Star point guard has beaten Los Angeles away from home. Utah has lost 16 straight road games to the Lakers – eight while being ushered out of the playoffs the past three seasons – by an average of 12.4 points.
In fact, the Jazz have beaten Los Angeles (32-13) just once at the 11-year-old Staples Center with Bryant in the lineup – with John Stockton and Karl Malone on Nov. 1, 2000. The two-time Finals MVP has averaged 30.8 points as the Lakers have beaten Utah 24 consecutive times at home with him in the starting backcourt.
Los Angeles couldn’t beat the Jazz in Salt Lake City on Nov. 26 despite Bryant’s 31 points, losing 102-96 as Williams had 29 points and 12 assists.
A more balanced effort from the Lakers paved the way to an impressive road win over another Northwest Division opponent their last time out, however. Pau Gasol and Ron Artest scored 19 points apiece, Bryant and Lamar Odom had 18 and Andrew Bynum 17 in a 107-97 victory Friday at Denver.
Bryant had just four points in the first half, but 14 during the Lakers’ 33-point third quarter.
“It’s important for me to keep my guys involved, and build their confidence. I know I can score at any moment or get looks at any moment,” Bryant said. “The last thing we were concerned about was my scoring.”
If Utah is going to snap its road hex against the Lakers, it’ll likely need to figure out a way to contain Gasol. Los Angeles’ big man has averaged 20.7 points – shooting 61.4 percent – and 15.1 rebounds in nine games against the Jazz since the start of last season.
Getting Gasol good looks is an excellent precursor to the Lakers’ success. They’re 23-4 when Gasol scores at least 18 points, and 9-9 when he goes for 17 or fewer.
Utah, meanwhile, needs more from C.J. Miles, who was averaging 13.9 points in his previous 14 games prior to the road trip.
Miles averaged 9.0 points – shooting 31.6 percent – in the four losses. Utah is 14-1 when he scores at least 14.