LOS ANGELES — It isn't uncommon for Jerry Sloan to wax nostalgic about the Utah Jazz and tell tales of how things worked back when John Stockton and Karl Malone roamed the earth as NBA players.
Turns out, Deron Williams longs for the good-old days, too.
At practice Monday, D-Will reminisced about how the Jazz used to play, how players knew the offense inside and out, how they set screens and properly spaced themselves on the court to allow a precision-based offense to go and flow, how the team effectively scored in transition, had finishers and effective outside shooters and guys who understood the nuances of a proven system.
You know, like how the Jazz played way back in, well, last year.
"It's just been different. Everybody knew the offense (last season) to start," Williams said. "Everybody understood the spacing and the timing of every play. We haven't really worked on it this year a lot."
Williams knew it would take a while for the 2010-11 team to jell, considering the addition of Al Jefferson, Raja Bell, Earl Watson, Gordon Hayward, etc., along with the 2010 losses of Jazz system connoisseurs Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Wesley Matthews and Ronnie Brewer.
But it's now late January, past the midway point, and the slumping Jazz are playing like it's the preseason — aside, that is, from the fact that they didn't lose in the exhibition season and are staring a potential six-game losing streak in the face with games against the Los Angeles Lakers (tonight) and the San Antonio Spurs (Wednesday).
There's no hiding that the past week — an 0-4 East Coast trip, if you missed it — took perhaps an even bigger toll on the Jazz's psyche than their free-falling record (27-17).
"It's definitely been frustrating, I think, for everybody," Williams said. "We just can't figure out how to get it going, how to start games out better."
In fact, the team captain said the Jazz haven't played a complete and fully satisfying game all season, even while racking up wins and taking an early lead in the Northwest Division (no longer the case, by the way).
"We just haven't had a game," he said, "where everything seems right, the whole offense is flowing and guys are just coming off when they're supposed to be, screening when they're supposed to be. We just don't have that."
Sloan believes part of the problem is that the Jazz are allowing defenses to dictate the pace and interrupt their offensive flow. Players, he said, need to recognize what defenses are doing and react better, make smarter passes to involve teammates, and even be more physical and aggressive.
"They come up and knock you out of it, are you going to continue to be knocked out?" Sloan said. "Are you going to continue to scoot farther out? Are you going to be strictly perimeter people?
"That's what I see on the films," he added. "Teams come up and they take (us) out."
Williams won't accept the influx of newcomers as an excuse for the Jazz's offensive ineptitude, which reached a low on the recent road trip when Utah averaged 42.2 percent field-goal shooting while scoring just 91.8 points per game.
In recent seasons when the lineup was fairly stable, the Jazz still had to deal with injuries.
"We just all knew. We had a better chemistry," he said. "I don't want to say better players to fit the system, but a better mesh of guys."
With the trade deadline looming in February, Williams doesn't expect the Jazz to make a major move. Sloan said he hasn't heard any deal chatter from general manager Kevin O'Connor, either.
While things could certainly change in the next month, they're proceeding with the likelihood that this current group will finish out the season.
But Williams is trying not to resign himself to more weeks or months of mediocre-to-lousy play, although it's easy to have negative thoughts about that.
"You start thinking that way, and start pointing the blame," Williams said. "I've just got to do a better job of playing and not getting frustrated. Everybody has to do the same thing as well."
And return to executing the way the Jazz have been doing for decades.
"It's been tough when you're used to having spacing," Williams said. "We're trying to run half of a system and then half just freelance. We can't do that. We're not the Phoenix Suns. We're not the New York Knicks. We're not (capable of) just coming out there and playing one-on-one.
"But," he added, "that's what's happening is things are breaking down and we're going one-on-one for the last five seconds of the shot clock and we're not getting anything good."
Williams blames himself as much as anybody. He said he's got to learn to play with this group.
"It's everybody. It's me," he said. "If it's not going to be the same basketball we're typically used to doing, I have to try to adjust."
Sloan, meanwhile, will continue to try to adjust the lineup in hopes of finding the blend and combinations that work best together. Replacing Andrei Kirilenko with rookie Gordon Hayward in the starting lineup didn't change the outcome Saturday at Philadelphia, and the Jazz coach wasn't quite Monday sure whom he'll start or sit tonight.
Sloan also tightened up the rotation to just nine players in that 96-85 loss, but that is also subject to change against the Lakers.
Most important, though, is getting more energy and effort, and playing harder and smarter together — things that will definitely be needed to snap Utah's 16-game losing streak against the Purple and Gold in L.A.
"We've got to get some wins," Williams said. "You can talk all you want. We've been talking all season. We've got to go play basketball and win some games."
Just like they used to do way back, well, two weeks ago.