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Jazz need offense -- quickly

Jazz need offense -- quickly



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By DOUG ALDEN AP Sports Writer

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Jazz need to discover an inside scoring presence against Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets, and they need to find it fast.

After losing the first two games in Houston, the Jazz are desperate to win one at home Thursday night. With another loss, they would be in jeopardy of being swept out of the playoffs for the first time since 1989.

With the 7-foot-6 Yao in the middle for the Rockets, the Jazz have been reluctant to take the ball inside and have shot erratically from the outside in both games.

Utah also hasn't been very patient trying to break down the Rockets' defense.

"It's difficult. We have to take what they give us and they're not going to give us much," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "When we worked hard to get what we wanted, we got some shots inside."

Game 3 is Thursday night in Salt Lake City, where the Jazz haven't played a playoff game since 2003. The series opened in Houston because of Utah's late-season slump and the Rockets' surge that gave them a one-game advantage in the final standings.

But playing on the road didn't seem to affect the Jazz nearly as much as who they were playing. Utah has struggled to keep Tracy McGrady and Yao in check -- both have scored more than 20 in each game -- and has been stifled by Houston's defense.

"We still didn't get the result that we wanted, but we are playing better," Utah forward Carlos Boozer said after practice Wednesday. "We've just got to win, man. We've got to win."

Boozer scored 41 Monday night in Houston's 98-90 win, but had little help. The Rockets held Mehmet Okur to four points and completely shut out forward Andrei Kirilenko, who broke down in tears at practice Sunday after complaining of his limited role in Utah's offense.

Kirilenko said his head was clear again Wednesday.

"I don't want to blame anybody. It's not a blame situation. I don't think it's somebody's fault. It's just how it goes this season," he said. "If we lose two games we're out. We're done for the season. We go to vacation. I don't want to go to vacation right now."

The Jazz haven't been swept in a playoff series since Golden State beat them 3-0 in the opening round in 1989. That was Sloan's first playoff series with the Jazz and he's not ready to start talking about another sweep.

Sloan said the Jazz improved from the series opener to the second game.

"That's what you want to see -- how guys perform in those kind of games," Sloan said. "When you've got your backs to the wall a little bit, see if you can fight back."

The Rockets, meanwhile, know they can also play better and that a 2-0 lead can easily be blown. Houston led Dallas 2-0 in the opening round two years ago and ended up losing the series 4-3.

"You can't even think about wrapping it up. You've just got to go up and get a win," McGrady said. "We're a much more focused group, having gone through it before. We know what it takes to make it happen."

Relying on McGrady, Yao and a huge advantage from the foul line has worked so far. The Rockets have taken 64 free throws to Utah's 34 in the first two games and Houston has only missed nine times from the line.

The Jazz haven't helped themselves get to the line more by avoiding taking on Yao, who got in a little early foul trouble Monday night, but survived it and finished with 27 points and nine rebounds. He said he has taken a little bit of a beating while getting to the line 23 times and missing just twice.

"They play very physical and they're not afraid to foul. I don't remember any of their players having foul trouble. But I felt like I was fouled many times," he said. "They still keep playing very aggressively. They always go very aggressive against us on the defensive side, trying to push us away from the paint, away from the basket."

Okur, known much more for his offense than defense, has had to guard Yao through the first two games and hasn't had much success.

It also seems to have worn him down a little; after averaging 17.6 points this season, Okur is 4-for-23 from the field so far.

The Jazz also had a visitor at practice Tuesday. John Stockton, who retired just after Utah's last playoff series ended in 2003, stopped by, although Sloan said it wasn't to motivate any of the players.

"If they're relying on that then we're pretty weak," Sloan said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-04-25-07 1657MDT

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