Jazz putting their pieces together
For a guy who's won more than 1,000 games as an NBA coach,
"Anybody could coach these guys," Sloan said of his current Jazz team, which appears destined to become the 18th playoff club in his 21 years in Utah. "They're good people, they work hard in practice and they do the right thing. It boils down to people and how they work and how they respect their job. You always have a chance to win if you get good people who try to do their job. I don't think it's coaching."
It's hard to disagree with a man who ranks fourth on the all-time wins list, but the fact that the Jazz are within sight of the Western Conference's No. 2 seed is a reflection of what could be some of the best coaching of Sloan's career. Injuries, lineup changes, a typically tough conference schedule and sad off-the-court news for Sloan and the Jazz -- all those factors have made life complicated for a team that came within two victories of the conference finals last season.
"Our guys have played pretty hard trying to win some ball games," Sloan said. "We've lost some games we should have won and won some games we should have lost, but they've shown a lot of desire."
Utah is finally hitting its stride, but it took a while because of injuries to top players. Stars
The Jazz have benefited from a home-heavy schedule; eight of the victories in the streak have come at EnergySolutions Arena (where they are 52-7 since Jan. 1, 2008), and Sunday's win at Toronto to open a five-game trip improved their road record to only 12-17. But Utah is also playing with more grit on defense, an acknowledged weakness that Sloan said is his responsibility.
"Taking bad shots has been one of the things that causes us to not play good defense a lot of the time," Sloan said. "And since pretty much all of our guys are offensive thinkers to start with, they sometimes have a tendency to take some bad shots and not cover the other end of the floor."
Though Sloan's just-do-your-job demeanor leaves the impression of inflexibility, he isn't as stuck in the old ways as presumed.
"The last couple of years he's changed a lot," said Kirilenko, who has famously battled Sloan in the past over his role. "He can be diplomatic on some days. He tries to involve the players a little bit more [in his decision-making] and explain things a little more. He's still a tough coach with his own philosophy, but he's shown he can adjust and joke a little bit."
That likely hasn't been easy to do over the past few weeks. Jazz owner
"It's not just about me," Sloan said in explaining how he has kept focused on the season. "My life was around those guys, but [my players] have their own lives in basketball. ... So it's about our players and our coaches.
"There's a lot to learn as you go forward. Each game is an experience sometimes. There's always something that players aren't familiar with or things you are trying to get across to them. That's part of the coaching process."
"He's a jump shooter who he still has the ability to create his own shot, although he's not a guy they want probing and dribbling the ball all over the floor. With West,
"Defensively, you feel for him [as a 6-foot-3, 180-pound player defending shooting guards]. He can guard on the ball and he's active away from the ball, which allows him to come up with steals and force bad passes. He reads the floor very well and takes advantage of guys who get careless with the basketball. He's able to rip at guys and grab guys and make big men who aren't strong with the basketball uncomfortable. He isn't afraid to battle a bigger player or harass him or make him work to get a spot. That will be important in the playoffs, when there's no question teams will look to try to take advantage if Cleveland goes with the [small] two-guard combination of Williams and West."
• "Getting up in the morning kind of stinks."
• "The hugging that goes on beyond the game makes me want to puke."
• "With Boris, it's always a cat-and-mouse game. He knows a lot, so you have to find ways to motivate him, almost trick him into what you want him to do sometimes."
MIT hosted the third