There’s no place like home.
Dorothy said it three times to return home from the land of Oz, and the Utah Jazz say it every time they return home to EnergySolutions Arena, where they are currently 5-0 this season—following up a league-best 37-4 mark in Salt Lake City last season.
After returning home from a five-game Eastern road trip that saw the Jazz post a dismal 1-4 record (the lone win coming in Philadelphia), Utah rebounded with a convincing 109-97 victory over the Phoenix Suns Monday night in Salt Lake City.
But what is it about this Jazz team that makes it so difficult to win on the road?
There are myriad reasons, from injuries to lack of focus.
But the one fact remains: Utah sighs at the sound and thoughts of the Willie Nelson classic “On the road again.”
It has been seven seasons since a Jazz team finished a season with a road record above the .500 mark. And with all the comparisons of the current Jazz squad to the Jazz squads of the Karl Malone and John Stockton era, there is one thing that keeps the Mailman’s team at a different level than the Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams Jazz team.
“The biggest difference between that team (Stockton and Malone) and this team is that that team was a little better road team,” Jazz assistant coach Phil Johnson said. “This team, we don’t do as well on the road…but we are almost unbeatable at home.”
The current Jazz team has followed up last season’s disappointing 17-24 road record with an equally disturbing 2-4 road record to start this season’s campaign—including losses to the then winless Washington Wizards, the Charlotte Bobcats, the dysfunctional New York Knicks, and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
While the Jazz continue to struggle as the visiting team, their success continues to grow as the host team—a feat that is constantly credited to the rowdy and raucous crowd.
In fact, in a survey conducted among 242 NBA players across the league last season, Sports Illustrated found that EnergySolutions Arena was seen as the toughest arena to play in as an opponent. Nearly 20-percent of those surveyed said that that Jazz home court was the most intimidating gym in the league.
Kyle Korver, who joined that Jazz mid-season last year from the Philadelphia 76ers, has seen the arena form an opponent’s view and knows that intimidation factor that faces opposing players on a nightly basis in Salt Lake City.
“I know playing on different teams in years past, coming here (to Utah) you always knew that the crowd was going to be into it, and that the crowd was going to be a factor,” Korver said. “Now that I do play from the other side, it is a factor and it helps a lot.”
Utah has always drawn energy and momentum from its home floor and its supportive fans. In Utah’s first year of existence, it recorded one sellout game. But since that season, the Jazz have sold out their arena over 600 times.
“If there would be an advantage, I would have to say our fans. Our fans have been terrific,” Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. “You go around the league and look at teams and there aren’t a lot of people in the stands and that can be tough at times. Our guys have kind of relished the idea of having the fans behind them.”
Not only does a Jazz return to Utah give the team a chance to enjoy a fan “sixth-man”, but it also provides the Jazz a chance to forget their most recent road disappointments and re-focus.
“We did a great job of putting it (the 1-4 road trip) where it is at…in the past,” forward Carlos Boozer said following Monday’s win over Phoenix. “If we had put our heads down, we would have come back and played terrible tonight. We left it in last week and moved onto this week. The great thing in the NBA is that if you lose one game, you have a chance to come back the next night.”
The favorite cliché of most NBA teams, Utah included, involves the idea of taking one game at a time.
So, as the Jazz prepare for Milwaukee on Wednesday night at home, leave it to the hordes of Jazz fans to look forward and hope for a pleasant outcome to the frightening 35 remaining road games—including a Friday night bout at San Antonio where the Jazz haven’t won in over ten years.
Sing it, Willie.