We’re not very far off. You look at our games. ... We just need to continue to battle and continue to get better in the last five to six minutes of the game. —Richard Jefferson, Utah Jazz guard
SALT LAKE CITY — Richard Jefferson is the veteran on the Utah Jazz's young team, having played 13 years for mostly winning teams. Like everyone else, he’s frustrated that the Jazz have lost three straight to start the season, including Saturday’s 104-93 defeat to Houston.
But he has a simple answer about what needs to happen for the Jazz to start winning games.
“Experience,’’ he said. “(Don't) be a young team anymore. We just need more experience.’’
OK, so the Jazz won’t start winning games until everyone on the team gets experience, which may take months or even years?
No he wasn’t saying that. Actually, Jefferson believes the Jazz are very close to being able to win games like Saturday's, when they led by 19 in the first half before fading. He’s encouraged by the team’s overall play this season.
“We’re not very far off,’’ he said. “You look at our games. We take Oklahoma City down to a shot. We take Phoenix on the road down to a shot. We had this team down 16 and we’re tied going into the fourth quarter. Even in the last three or four minutes it was a dogfight. We just need to continue to battle and continue to get better in the last five to six minutes of the game.’’
Jefferson, who saw limited playing time for Golden State last year, is doing his part for the Jazz this year. He led the Jazz in scoring with 18 points, including 12 in the first half, which was more than he scored in any game last year when he averaged just 3.1 points per game for the Warriors. Also, his 27 minutes were more than any he played last year.
“I’m just happy to be on the court, whatever minutes (coach Tyrone Corbin) gives me, I try to be a leader on and off the court,’’ he said. ”I’m feeling more and more comfortable out there. I had a bunch of shots in that Phoenix game that frustrated me that I wasn’t able to knock down. I just want to keep being aggressive and doing whatever the coach needs.’’
Jefferson came to the Jazz in the offseason in the big trade with Golden State that many saw purely as a salary-dumping move by the Jazz for three players whose contracts expire after this season. However, Jefferson has proved that he still has the skills he showed when he was a double-digit scorer for New Jersey and San Antonio for many years.
The 33-year-old believes it’s a matter of time before the Jazz start turning the close losses into wins and there is hope — even with a daunting four-game road trip coming up next week.
“We have a great group of young talented players. The coach does a great job of giving us the proper game plan and the tools we need to win,’’ he said. “We just need more experience, understanding the possessions and the shots and defensive transition. They escalate as you go on. There’s nothing you can say, no play you can draw up. You just have to go through this. It’s the growing pains of a young team.’’