Utah Jazz have improved mood, renewed desire to play harder
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
OKLAHOMA CITY — They had a productive practice. They enjoyed an insightful film session. They even did some of that good old-fashioned communicating.
The combination of doing all of that on Friday — after suffering back-to-back blowout losses to open the 2010-11 season — helped put the Utah Jazz in a more chipper mood Saturday.
The 0-2 squad is also optimistic those things — combined with more effort and intensity on the court, beginning tonight against the Oklahoma City Thunder — will help get the new season on the right track.
"Yesterday was good," Jazz captain Deron Williams said of Friday's practice.
The team got back to working on its offense, which a more dour Williams claimed to be missing "rhythm" the morning after Thursday's home-opening 110-94 loss to Phoenix.
The Jazz also spent time in the film room — something Williams hoped the coaching staff would do after consecutive clunkers. This viewing wasn't pretty, but Williams believes it was important to watch. The visual helps players recognize and rectify individual mistakes.
"Film don't lie, so it's good to see," Williams said. "We know everybody can play better, everybody can play harder. Our defense was bad, transition especially. We had a lot of leak-outs, a lot of uncontested 3s in transition."
But Utah hasn't just been hampered by missed shots, blown defensive assignments and even miscommunications — some of which were more in the spotlight than others (just ask Gordon Hayward, who received an apology from Williams).
The Jazz have seemed to play without fire or desire since the preseason.
"That's the biggest thing we want to pick up," Jazz swingman C.J. Miles said, "is the energy level."
That lack of intensity has resulted in slow starts, including early nine-point deficits in the opening minutes of both losses, and has prevented Utah from even taking a lead yet for one second this season.
"We've won one quarter of basketball," Williams said, speaking of Thursday's third quarter during which Utah outscored Phoenix 30-26. "That's why when coach brought that to our attention it just makes you think you're not playing too well."
Despite and/or because of the admitted lack of on-court chemistry and visible struggles, the Jazz rolled up their sleeves for two days of practice heading into tonight's game against the Thunder. Oftentimes, the team gets a day off following back-to-back sets.
Not this time.
The positive sign is that since Thursday, the Jazz have done more working than worrying.
"It's not time to panic. We've lost two games," Williams said, with the big picture of an 82-game season in mind. "We've said all along even though we won every preseason game that it's just going to be a process. Our chemistry's going to have to develop."
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan wasn't surprised that some controversy came out of back-to-back blowout losses to open the season. He's just curious how the team will respond. That task is especially tough at OKC against rising star Kevin Durant and the Northwest Division favorite Thunder.
"The biggest thing is how you handle it, how you prepare yourself to play (after losses)," Sloan said. "You can say what you want about the team, but everybody has to be accountable for themselves in order for us to have a chance to win."
Williams added that the Jazz are determined to improve their effort even against a challenging opponent.
"It's not going to get any easier for us," Williams said. "But we can play a lot better, and we know we can and we know we have it in us. We've just got to go out there and do it."
Or suffer the consequences. In this case, that would be only the third 0-3 start in franchise history and the first such out-of-the-gates stumble since the inaugural 1979-80 season in Salt Lake City.
"It's going to be a test to see if we're really going to play hard," Jazz swingman C.J. Miles said of tonight's game.
"They're going to play hard," he added. "And if we don't play hard, we're going to get embarrassed."
And, as everyone knows, they've had enough of that already this season.
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