SALT LAKE CITY — Deron Williams can't relate to what the Cleveland Cavaliers are currently going through.
Williams' teams lost just eight games in high school and only 15 in college. He has missed the playoffs just once as a pro, and the worst stretch the Jazz have gone through with Williams as their point guard is a six-game losing streak in December of 2007.
The Cavaliers, Utah's opponent tonight, aren't quite as fortunate.
Cleveland is mired in an 11-game losing streak and coming off its worst performance in franchise history. The Cavs were defeated by the Lakers 112-57 on Tuesday night, scoring a franchise-low point total while dubiously making the team record books by suffering the largest margin of defeat in franchise history.
Wait, there's more.
The Cavaliers have lost 17 straight road games. They've been defeated in 21 of their last 22 games. Perhaps not coincidentally, the second game of the Cavaliers' last 22 contests came against the Miami Heat and former "Chosen One," LeBron James. Cleveland was demoralized in a 118-90 loss to the Heat and hasn't recovered.
How would Williams react to such a stretch? "I wouldn't be happy," he said.
Still, Williams believes the Cavaliers can be a dangerous team at EnergySolutions Arena tonight. And he's serious when he says it.
"It always is (dangerous to play a team that's struggling), especially how they got beat the other night," Williams said. "They'll be ready to bounce back and put up a fight. They're a good team. They have some talented players on their team. They really haven't found a groove yet."
Well, that's certainly a nice way of putting it by Williams. But the bottom line is that the Cavs are terrible. Cleveland has the worst record in the NBA and is tied with the Kings for the fewest wins this season at eight. The Jazz, in comparison, won their ninth game back on Nov. 20.
Making things worse for the Cavaliers is that they're banged up. Center Anderson Varejao is out for the season with a torn tendon in his left foot. Guard Daniel Gibson has missed the last three games with a sprained ankle. Guard/forward Anthony Parker hasn't played since Jan. 2 because of a strained lower back.
So how does coach Jerry Sloan get the Jazz ready to play against the depleted Cavaliers? Other than reminding them to tie their shoes, make a few baskets and play a little defense, of course.
"You can bring up scenarios that have happened 20-30 years ago, what happened last year, what happened last month, but the bottom line is we have to come and play," said Sloan. "We have to do what we got to do. If we holler 'mismatch' all the time and 'I have a guy on me I can beat' and start to play one-on-one and don't play your team game, it's tough to win."
Sloan can't imagine what it's like losing at the rate the Cavaliers are right now. If he coached the Jazz through a similar stretch, his message to his team, he said, would be "Who are we?"
"The bottom line is who are we?" said Sloan. "Who are we going to be? Are we going to be a team (that accepts losing)? It's about as nasty a feeling as you can have as far as basketball is concerned. If you acquire a taste for losing, I think you enjoy it and end up trying to say, 'It's OK.' I still can't do it (accept losing) at my age now."
Jazz guard Raja Bell has played for six different franchises and had his share of ups and downs. He was a member of Utah's 2004-05 team that was hampered by injuries and won just 26 games. He understands the Cavaliers' current plight.
"It kind of tests your mettle as a pro," Bell said. "You want to go out there and even though you're not winning every night you want to try and do things the right way and play the game the way it's supposed to be played and keep trying to get better. That sounds crazy for a team that's won 20 games, but that's what you're out there doing."
That's basically all the Cavs can do the rest of the year, as James has taken his talents to South Beach, and the playoffs aren't a realistic possibility. They'll have to be professionals and compete against teams that still have something to play for.
Just like the Jazz, who say they'll show up and give a good effort against the league's worst team.
"We got to pick up some wins, so we got to come out and just play hard," said Jazz forward Paul Millsap.
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